Animal Regulation No. 4 (2010), C-print, Liu Di (Chinese, born 1985). Courtesy of the Collection of Andrew Rayburn and Heather Guess and Pékin Fine Arts, Beijing
ST. PETERSBURG - My Generation: Young Chinese Artists, on view June 7 through Sept. 28, is one of the most compelling exhibitions of contemporary art ever presented at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg.
It looks at the new generation of artists who have emerged in mainland China since 2000, a period marked by increased openness to the West and greater experimentation. The Chinese art scene has exploded with more than 400 galleries and 700 new museums opening in the last four years alone.
Installations, video, photographs, paintings, drawings, and mixed-media works by 27 artists will be on view from Saturday, June 7, through Sunday, Sept. 28. The curator, New York-based art critic Barbara Pollack, interviewed more than 100 young artists from every region of China in preparing the exhibition. The works will be divided between the MFA and the Tampa Museum of Art, creating a cultural corridor across the bay.
“My Generation brings a brilliant group of young artists to Tampa Bay for the first time,” said MFA Director Kent Lydecker. “Their astonishing work shows us that Chinese art is at the very cutting edge of creativity.”
All the artists represented were born after 1976, the year Mao died, and the end of the Cultural Revolution, which began in 1966. Almost all are products of the One-Child Policy and have grown up in a country with a high-powered market economy. Some of the artists, while also working individually, have formed partnerships and collectives.
Pollack has divided My Generation into four overriding themes: politics, the environment, intimate relationships, and family. The MFA will display works that explore the first two concepts.
Liu Di is one of the youngest artists with work in the show and created his Animal Regulation series in 2010 when he was just 23. Using Photoshop, he places enormous animals in the midst of Beijing construction sites and projects, conveying a sense of desolation and absurdity.
In his video Flying Blue Flag (2004-2005), Hu Xiangqian plays a candidate for mayor in his hometown, even buying votes, in what is ultimately an impossible race.
Shi Zhiying’s stunning paintings combine Eastern and Western influences and display her spiritual journey, influenced by Buddhism.
Lu Yang pushes the boundaries of technology, combining 3-D animation, medical illustrations, and techno music.
Sun Xun has devised a new installation especially for the MFA. Primarily using animation and drawing, he conjures up fantastical nations and worlds.
Political activism and censorship remain complicated in China. Unlike the previous generation who developed during the Cultural Revolution and lived through Tiananmen Square, younger artists tend to be more subtle in their work, avoiding direct opposition to the government.
Pollack points out in the catalogue that “sexuality and depictions of nudity are forbidden according to censorship regulations, but galleries have easily circumvented these rules. Museums are more strictly controlled.” Artists are examining gender issues and gay identity, but they face intense family pressure to marry and have children. Gays and lesbians are only beginning to step out of the closet and young women artists are reluctant to call themselves “feminists.”
Pollack writes “that China, going back to the Silk Road, has always been the site of cross-cultural influences, both appropriating and disseminating imagery and techniques to enrich its own aesthetic development. As such, the influx of everything from McDonald’s to Warhol, instantly synthesized by Chinese artists, is as genuinely Chinese as any Imperial ceramic or scroll painting.”
In fact, many of these young artists have studied traditional Chinese art forms in the demanding academies they have attended and have reacted to them in their work. The MFA’s significant collection of Asian art, including Chinese ceramics, a magnificent Han Dynasty-horse, and Tibetan bronze Buddhas, encourages visitors to place this new work in a longer stream of history and culture.
The striking catalogue will feature insightful essays by Ms. Pollack and multimedia artist and curator Li Zhenhua, based in Shanghai and Zurich; a foreword by Tampa Museum of Art Executive Director Todd D. Smith and MFA Director Kent Lydecker; reproductions of all the works in the show; and artist biographies. Katherine Pill, Assistant Curator of Art after 1950, is coordinating the project at the MFA. My Generation will travel to the Oklahoma City Museum of Art later this year. A free application about the exhibition for iPhone, iPad, and other devices will be available.
My Generation lecture series
• Conversation with guest curator Barbara Pollack and Katherine Pill, assistant curator of art after 1950, Sunday, June 8, 3 p.m., opening weekend of the exhibition, Free with MFA admission
Distinguished art critic and curator Barbara Pollack is one of the foremost authorities on contemporary Chinese art and is the author of The Wild, Wild East: An American Art Critic’s Adventures in China. In the late 1990s, she published pioneering articles on contemporary Chinese art in ARTnews, Art & Auction, and the Village Voice. She has continued her exploration of this fascinating art and burgeoning market in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Art in America, and Vanity Fair, among others. She has written monographs and articles on numerous Chinese artists. Several of her essays were selected for the China Art Book. An adjunct professor at the School of Visual Arts in New York, Pollack lectures widely in the U.S. and abroad.
Katherine Pill is the first curator in the MFA’s history to specialize in works created after 1950 to the present day. Her position was made possible by The Hazel and William Hough Curatorial Endowment Fund, established in 2012. She curated Color Acting: Abstraction Since 1950 and has recommended contemporary works to enter the collection. She completed a three-year dual MA in art history, theory, and criticism and arts administration and policy at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has also been Assistant Curator and Curatorial Fellow at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City.
• Dr. Judith Shapiro of American University on China’s Environmental Challenges, Thursday, Sept. 11, 6:30 p.m. Free with MFA admission (only $5 after 5 on Thursdays)
Dr. Shapiro was one of the first Americans to work in China after the normalization of relations with the U.S. in 1979 and taught journalism and literature to more than 600 students and faculty in Changsha, Hunan from 1979 to 1981. She is the author of Mao’s War Against Nature: Politics and the Environment in Revolutionary China and China’s Environmental Challenges, among others. She has lectured in China for the U.S. Department of State on environmental issues and is fluent in Mandarin Chinese.
At American University, Shapiro is on the faculty of the Global Environmental Politics Program and directs the dual degree in natural resources and sustainable development with the University for Peace in Costa Rica. She holds her PhD in environmental politics and international relations from American University, her MA in Asian studies from the University of California at Berkeley, another MA in comparative literature from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and her BA in anthropology and East Asian studies from Princeton University.
• Art Bite, Monday, June 9, 1 p.m. Director Kent Lydecker will focus on several works in the exhibition in this 30-minute informal talk. Free with Museum admission.
• Coffee Talk with Nan Colton, Wednesday, June 11, 10 a.m. The Museum’s performing artist-in-residence shares a story of a merchant’s wife and her experience along the spice route during the Han Dynasty. Enjoy refreshments at 10 a.m., Colton’s interactive presentation at 10:30, and a general docent tour at 11:15. Free with MFA admission.
The MFA at 255 Beach Drive N.E. has a world-class collection, with works by Monet, Gauguin, Renoir, Morisot, Cézanne, Rodin, O’Keeffe, and many other great artists. Also displayed are ancient Greek and Roman, Egyptian, Asian, African, pre-Columbian, and Native American art. The photography collection is one of the largest and finest in the Southeast. The galleries, The Junior League Great Hall, and the Marly Room in the original building were recently renovated, completely transforming the experience of the art on view.
The Museum is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, until 8 p.m. on Thursday, and noon-5 p.m. Sunday.
Admission is only “5 after 5” on Thursday. Regular admission is $17 for adults, $15 for those 65 and older, and $10 for students seven and older, including college students with current I.D. Children under seven and Museum members are admitted free. Groups of 10 or more adults pay only $12 per person and children $4 each with prior reservations.