Experimental Beijing

Gender and Globalization in Chinese Contemporary Art

Book Pages: 360 Illustrations: 85 illustrations, incl. 19 in Published: March 2018

Art and Visual Culture > Art History, Asian Studies > East Asia, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies

During the lead-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the censorious attitude that characterized China's post-1989 official response to contemporary art gave way to a new market-driven, culture industry valuation of art. Experimental artists who once struggled against state regulation of artistic expression found themselves being courted to advance China's international image. In Experimental Beijing Sasha Su-Ling Welland examines the interlocking power dynamics in this transformational moment and rapid rise of Chinese contemporary art into a global phenomenon. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork and experience as a videographer and curator, Welland analyzes encounters between artists, curators, officials, and urban planners as they negotiated the social role of art and built new cultural institutions. Focusing on the contradictions and exclusions that emerged, Welland traces the complex gender politics involved and shows that feminist forms of art practice hold the potential to reshape consciousness, produce a nonnormative history of Chinese contemporary art, and imagine other, more just worlds.


"Drawing on her own ethnographic fieldwork, Welland investigates the power dynamics (traditional versus modern, male versus female) that played out in China as the role of experimental art was negotiated and new cultural institutions were erected." — Art in America

"For all readers, including non-specialists, Welland should succeed in making lost lives and camouflaged histories visible and palpable. The limpid prose, theoretically informed structure and expanded multimedia materials available on the book’s accompanying website would make it a captivating textbook for an advanced undergraduate course or a stimulating methodological text for graduate seminars. Marking a major contribution to the field, this is a masterful, thought-provoking and luminous text." — Ros Holmes, Journal of Gender Studies

"A much welcome addition not only to the expanding scholarship on contemporary Chinese art, but also to Chinese feminist art, and gender studies." — Meiqin Wang, The China Quarterly

"Experimental Beijing is a complex book that demands close reading not only by scholars interested in gender issues in art, but also those who wish for a multi-dimensional picture of the worlds of Chinese contemporary art." — Doris Sung, China Perspectives

“Through interviews and communications on other occasions with a broad range of people, including artists, curators, officials, and urban planners, Welland shows convincingly the particular world of those almost forgotten artists and their creative strivings. … In so doing she creates a space for dialogue and cultural encounter in the text, averts the reader from the trap of translation and situates them in this admirably detailed account of the Chinese contemporary art world.” — Siying Duan & Jun Zeng, Visual Anthropology

Experimental Beijing is excellent at revealing the complex complicity between Chinese contemporary art and the new Chinese market economy and the heavy price that is paid by Chinese women artists for it.” — Chris Berry, Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology

"Situated at the intersection of art history, anthropology, and gender studies, Experimental Beijing enacts incisive interventions in histories of Chinese contemporary art, global contemporary art, and feminist art.… Engagingly written with fluid and lyrical prose." — Peggy Wang, The Art Bulletin

"In this exquisite ethnography Sasha Su-Ling Welland charts shifting debates over contemporary art as a zone of encounter. Welland evokes her own moving encounters with especially women artists who highlight the Other visions of imagined worlds that exist around the edges of 'the Chinese dream.' They are artist ethnographers who, in their fraught encounters with Western feminist artists like Judy Chicago, demonstrate how feminist art is an epistemological field of practice rather than a label for static objects. This book is one of a kind and a must-read for anyone who wants to understand not only China and contemporary art, but gendered perspectives on globalizing visions." — Lisa Rofel, author of Desiring China: Experiments in Neoliberalism, Sexuality, and Public Culture

“Sasha Su-Ling Welland has written an emotionally complex book about women who make contemporary art and their intricate, tiring, and sometimes treacherous environment. In a world of commodities, apartments, W. E. B. Du Bois icons, Ai Weiwei, and Picasso brand cars, violently gifted women manufacture disturbing political art. Intellectually compelling and cast in deceptively fluid prose, Welland's ethnography shows creative logic in the remarkable ways that a feminist critic makes a difference and women artists' choices are ungovernably complex. This is a stunning book.” — Tani E. Barlow, author of The Question of Women in Chinese Feminism


Availability: In stock
Price: $28.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Sasha Su-Ling Welland is Associate Professor of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Washington and author of A Thousand Miles of Dreams: The Journeys of Two Chinese Sisters.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Note on the Digital Companion  ix
Illustrations  xi
Acknowledgments  xv
Prologue. Worldly Fables  1
Introduction. Chinese Contemporary Art in the Expanded Field  7
Part I. Art Worldings
1. Xianfeng Beijing  43
2. Showcase Beijing  79
Part II. Zones of Encounter
3. The Besieged City  111
4. The Hinterlands of Feminist Art  135
Part III. Feminist Sight Lines
5. Red Detachment  179
6. Opening the Great Wall  206
7. Camoflaged Histories  236
Epilogue. Recursive Worldly Fables  265
Notes  275
Bibliography  305
Index  323
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Winner of the Francis L.K. Hsu Book Prize presented by the Society for East Asian Anthropology (American Anthropological Association).

Winner of the 2020 Joseph Levenson Post-1900 Book Prize, presented by the Association for Asian Studies

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6943-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6928-8
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