Shortly after checking into the hotel, I went for a ‘short stroll’. Being back in Venice gave me a natural high, so I wandered further and further from the hotel, until I came to the metal gangway that hangs from the endless walls of a fort-like structure over the lagoon. I was just thinking “I really ought to go back” when I chanced upon an open door in the wall, leading to the giant exhibition ‘Voices of the Unseen, Chinese Independent Art’.
The installation of the exhibition was far from complete, many artworks still being half-wrapped. I wandered through hangar after hangar filled by what seemed at least a hundred Chinese artists. With one or two exceptions I found most of the art garish, commercial, unsurprising – confirming my bias of Chinese art. Seeing that the exhibition had been organized by the Guangdong Museum of Art I also wondered what ‘independent art’ might mean. It seemed to refer to ‘marketable art’.
The same team is behind the über-cool Guangzhou Triennial (the last two editions were called “Meta-Question: Back to the Museum Per Se” and “Farewell to Post-Colonialism”). It is all very depressing.
How big my surprise then when, the following day, I reluctantly visited the official Chinese Pavilion and discovered much more experimental and critical art – truly captivating. As if the Communist Party of China were still truly involved in the problems of society and self-criticism (jiantao) but has given up the illusion of progress under its reign – while the liberal bourgeoisie and capitalist class is celebrating its ascendancy with art that seems to deride any ideal with irony, even sarcasm.
This reversal of positions was truly perplexing, but alerted me to the danger of approaching the perils of ‘national representation’ too simplistically.
Quote from the Ideological Guide: The China Pavilion thus stakes a claim against the commodifying of dissent (…) Is it possible to give this nuance and subtlety a more permanent presence within the onslaught of the marketplace?
More reading: interesting background info on Global Times China