How do you select 25 individuals from a nation of 1.3 billion people? Arbitrarily is the only real answer. Though by no means exhaustive, the following list represents a cross section of artists that currently live and work in China and make really cool art.
China is at once a uniquely contemporary and deeply traditional society. Chinese social and political life is based largely on events of the last forty years, since the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976 forced a hard reset. The institution of the one-child policy in 1979, the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, the exponential economic growth in the ’90s, the country’s admission into the World Trade Organization in 2001, the recent period of rapid Westernization, and the rise to global power have shaped every aspect of Chinese life.
Meanwhile, centuries-old artistic traditions, such as ink-wash painting and ceramics, remain dear and deeply ingrained in the culture. Ranging in age from those in their 20s to those in their 50s, the artists that follow are all affected and influenced by the country’s recent events and ancient artifacts. From the ultra famous to the super fresh, they deal with the constantly shifting current of Chinese society, politics, and economy, while maintaining a connection to the country’s deep cultural roots.
From old to young, here are 25 Contemporary Chinese Artists You Need to Know. . . .
Medium: Painting, Illustration
Based in: Foshan
At just 22 years old, Chen Yingie AKA Hua Tunan already possesses masterful skill and sage understanding of artistic tradition. He draws on classical styles and methods using modern media like spray paint and his signature “ink splatter” and paper cuts. His striking compositions often feature natural subjects, particularly animals, and with nimble technique and a bold sense of color.
Based in: Beijing
Xu Bing has been a major player in Chinese art for over 30 years. He creates extremely complex, systematic projects that often become large-scale, attention-grabbing installations. In 1987, he developed a vocabulary of 4,000 symbols that appear like Chinese characters but have absolutely no meaning in any language. He carved each into a wooden block and hand-printed them into a series of nonsense volumes, known as Book from the Sky. He later tattooed a pig with his made-up characters and put it in a pen with another pig inked with nonsense words in the English alphabet; the piece became notorious when the two pigs started going at it in the exhibition. Xu has also invented and even taught classes in Square Word Calligraphy, a method of writing English words in a script that looks like Chinese characters. His recent work has focused on non-linguistic matters, as the aptly-named Phoenix above, which was created from the demolition debris and materials found on Chinese construction sites.