China Avant-Garde


China Avant-Garde
Art exhibition
The ‘China Avant-Garde Exhibition’ took place in the China Art Gallery in Beijing on 5–19 February 1989, two months before the beginning of the Tiananmen Square Student Democratic Movement, and four months before the governmental shut-down of the movement on 4 June 1989.
The first call for organizing a nationwide avant-garde exhibition was initiated by Gao Minglu in the conference entitled ‘Zhuhai ‘85 New Wave Large-Scale Slides Exhibition’ (Zhuhai bawu meishu sichao daxing huandengzhan) curated by Gao Minglu, 15–19 August 1986. Representatives from avant-garde groups and critics from all over China attended the event. The exhibition was originally scheduled to take place in the National Agricultural Museum in Beijing in July 1987. Three months before the opening, the officials from the Chinese Art Association ordered the exhibition’s organizer Gao Minglu to cease preparatory work because of the political Campaign against Bourgeois Liberalization. The result was the abortion of the exhibition, although most of the preparatory work had already been completed.
When the political situation eased in the early 1988, Gao Minglu started again to organize the exhibition and many artists and critics joined him. The organizational committee was founded in Beijing on 8 October 1988. Gao Minglu was elected as the head, or the chief curator of the committee. The committee consisted of fourteen members among active scholars and critics, including Gan Yang, Zhang Yaojun, Liu Dong, Liu Xiaochun, Zhang Zuying, Li Xianting, Tang Qingnian, Yang Lihua, Zhouyan, Fan Dian, Wang Mingxian, Kong Changan and Fei Dawei.
Though there were in total six open-minded official units willing to sponsor the exhibition, they mostly offered the formal support without which the National Art Gallery would not allow the exhibition to be held in the gallery. All the funds for the exhibition were raised by the organizer and the artists themselves.
The exhibition opened in the National Art Gallery in Beijing on 5 February 1989, on the eve of Chinese New Year. The works in the exhibition were distributed over six galleries that occupied three floors, and included 297 pieces in the various media of painting, sculpture, photography, video and installations. All the classic Chinese avantgarde artworks of the 1980s, such as Xu Bing’s The Book from the Sky, Wang Guangyi’s Mao Zedong No. 1, Huang Yongping’s Histor y of Chinese Painting and Concise History of Western Painting in Washing Machine for Two Minutes, were displayed in the exhibition.
Three hours after the opening, the exhibition was shut down due to several provocative performance works, particularly the two gun-shots performance by Xiao Lu and Tang Song at their installation work Dialogue. After the reopening of the show in three days, the exhibition was forced to close again because of an anonymous letter threatening to place three bombs in the China Art Gallery unless the exhibition was shut down. As a result, the China Art Gallery punished the Organizational Committee with a fine of 2,000 yuan. Some conservative critics criticized the exhibition as ‘bourgeois liberalism’. Particularly after the 4 June Tiananmen Square Event, a few critics even named the exhibition a ‘small Tiananmen Square’.
(1988) ‘Zhongguo xiandai yishuzhan chouzhan tonggao, diyihao’ [Announcement of the organization of ‘China Avant-Garde)’] Zhongguo meishubao 44 (31 October), 1.
Gao, Minglu (1999). ‘Fengkuang de yijiubajiu—zhongguo xiandai yishuzhan shimo’ [1989—A Crazy Year: A Description of the Beginning and End of the ‘China Avant-Garde’ Exhibition] Qingxiang [Tendency] 12:43–76.
Lü, Peng and Yi, Dan (1992). Zhongguo xiandai yishushi [A History of Modern Art in China]. Changsha: Hunan meishu chubanshe, 325–53.
Tyson, Ann Scott (1989). ‘Avant-Garde Bursts onto Chinese Art Scene—Action Art Symbolizes Artist Determination to Brashly Take Advantage of Eased State Censorship’. The Christian Science Monitor (7 February), 6.
Wu, Hung (2000). Exhibiting Experimental Art in China. Chicago: David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art/University of Chicago, 11–23.
Zhou, Yan (1989). ‘Zhongguo xiandai yishuzhan de dansheng’ [The Birth of the ‘China Avant-Garde’ Exhibition]. Beijing qingnianbao (10 February).

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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