Installation view of “My Generation: Young Chinese Artists” at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg. Front: LIU DI, “Animal Regulation,” 2010, C-print, 80 × 60 cm each; Back: SUN XUN’s installation of video works and drawings. Photo byThomas U. Gessler. Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg. 

My Generation: Young Chinese Artists

Tampa Museum of Art and Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida
China USA

“My Generation: Young Chinese Artists,” the first exhibition in the United States to exclusively feature the post-Mao generation of Chinese artists, showcases painting, sculpture, photography, installation, and video by 27 artists from mainland China that were born after 1976—the year of Mao Zedong’s death. Organized by American journalist and independent curator Barbara Pollack, the exhibition examines five expansive themes—personal relationships, family, politics, urban environment and religion—and is shown at both the Tampa Museum of Art and Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, in Florida. 

“You have to really throw out stereotypes of Chinese contemporary art when you look at these works. These artists are rebelling against the commercialization of China, which they see the older generation of artists as having done,” Pollack stated during a walkthrough of the show. “Between the older generation of artists and this generation, it’s as though they grew up in two different countries and two different centuries,” she added. “[The latter] come from all over China and from all kinds of economic backgrounds, but mainly live in Beijing or Shanghai for career reasons.”

ZHAO ZHAO, Constellations II No.5, 2013, mirror with bullet holes, 160 × 120 × 17cm. Photo by Thomas U. Gessler. Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg. 

Sun Xun created a site-specific installation at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, which features his video works on small-screen monitors. They are accompanied by drawings that he had made at artist-residencies around the world, which are installed over semi-abstract, representational wall works that he painted directly on the museum’s walls. Sun refers to this type of accumulation of his artwork as a “Visual Library”; they question the history that the artist was taught in government-run schools, with regards to the more truthful history that his father taught him at home.

Other highlights at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, include Zhao Zhao’s politically charged bullet-shattered mirrors, which put the viewer in the perspective of both the victim and aggressor; Liu Di’s photographs of giant, Photoshop-manipulated frogs, pandas, rabbits and deer plopped down in the middle of Beijing housing environs; a video of Hu Xiangqian charmingly running for mayor of his hometown, even though he wasn’t actually on the official ballot; an enormous, phantasmagoric tapestry attributed as a collaboration between Xu Zhen and MadeIn (a fictional art collective masterminded by Xu) that appropriates imagery from many Western mythologies and iconography; and Lu Yang’s fantastic digital installation of animated Buddhist gods, medical illustrations and techno music that is mind-blowing!

Installation view of “My Generation: Young Chinese Artists” at Tampa Museum of Art, Tampa. Front and Above: IRRELEVANT COMMISSION, About Family, 2011. Courtesy Tampa Museum of Art.

For the Tampa Art Museum, Jin Shan created a site-specific, futuristic sculpture out of paper, aluminum and plastic, with slide projections that reference his father’s journey of surviving the Cultural Revolution to become a successful set designer. The artist group Irrelevant Commission reconstructed its sculptural installation About Family (2011), comprising a chandelier with fixtures made from old pots and pans, which hangs above a loom with rainbow-colored threads that connect to an adjacent wall. The collective Double Fly Art Center shows their video Double Fly Saves the World (2012), where the members dress up in face-masks of world leaders and have an orgy on a bed, which was nearly censored in Tampa.

Additional standouts include Liu Chuang’s video, Untitled (Dancing Partner) (2010), of two white cars shot from above, driving side-by-side through Beijing traffic as slowly as legally possible, serving as a metaphor for how society is affected by a small minority of individuals who are only out to protect their own interests; Qiu Xiaofei’s jumbo-sized oil painting Utopia (2010), which captures Beijing being reconstructed for the 2008 Olympic Games; artist-duo Birdhead’s analog, black-and-white photographs of their friends’ daily lives in Shanghai; Chi Peng’s photographic commentary on China’s One Child Policy, in which he appears naked and alone in urban landscapes while chased by red airplanes; and Cui Jie’s paintings of contemporary buildings and interior spaces, which share the look and spirit of the New Leipzig School movement.    

BIRDHEAD, The Light of Eternity, 2012, black-and-white inkjet print, 36 prints: 50 × 60 cm each. Installed at “My Generation: Young Chinese Artists” at Tampa Museum of Art, Tampa. Courtesy Tampa Museum of Art. 

“There is not one artist in this show that has a day job,” says Pollack. “There’s a big enough market in China that if you can make it through its art schools, you can have a successful career. All of these artists have been exhibiting since they got out of art school.”

Coming of age in a more liberalized society than the previous generation of creative spirits, the artists in “My Generation” have been influenced as much by international art and globalization as they have been by their own culture.

My Generation: Young Chinese Artists” continues at the Tampa Museum of Art and Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg until September 28, 2014. The exhibition will then travel to the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, where it will be on view from October 24, 2014 to January 18, 2015.