The famous Chinese philosopher Laozi once said, ‘a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’ and Chinese art has certainly come along way in the last few decades.
Chinese art is steeped in history and a tradition dating back centuries, much is based on the craft of calligraphy, which is exemplified here by the extraordinary talents of He Baijun and the brush and ink work on rice paper by Li Jian and Walasse Ting. Here we have examples of where old meets new, traditional techniques infused with a contemporary Western twist, in part through the addition of colour.
This is true about much of Chinese art, which in some ways refers back to a time before the ‘Cultural Revolution’ as well as looking to the future. In the era of Chairman Mao, the party controlled what was artistically acceptable and only supported artwork that extolled the virtues of Socialism and set about destroying much of Chinese historical culture.
Today, Chinese artists enjoy much greater freedoms. They can travel and have access to a global audience. The art market is burgeoning.
Collectors are just as keen to acquire classical Chinese work and artefacts, such as Ming vases, as they are to purchase contemporary work at record prices too. It was no accident that when Saatchi opened his new gallery on the King’s Road in 2007, the inaugural exhibition was entitled – The Revolution Continues: New Chinese Art.
The appetite for Chinese and Asian art has grown apace since then, the world’s most prestigious art fair – Basel now has a Hong Kong edition. There is a ground swell of contemporary activity, with artists grappling with change and upheaval, exploring the intersection of tradition and technology, Communism and Capitalism, and Eastern and Western styles.
ArtCatto recognises the significance of Chinese art and has curated a rich exhibition, which reflects the various aspects of this wide-ranging culture. We have the fine portraiture of Shen Ming Cun, exquisitely painted tribe children whose time honoured way of life is in stark contrast to the red-capped tourists featured in Hu Xiaogang’s work. Yu Zhongwen captures the concept of Western Romanticism with his blonde figure wistfully looking into a pond and explorations of childhood innocence. Yin Qing Feng examines in muted tones the product, waste and repetition of Western consumerism.
Chinese art is as diverse as the multitude of people who inhabit this vast country. China is constantly on the move, a dynamic country of progress yet rightly proud of its’ cultural heritage and artistic achievements. Convention and custom sit along side contemporary thought and expression.
ArtCatto, in partnership with Conrad Algarve, delivers a sample of this fascinating dichotomy, delighting the viewer with a stunning selection of artwork which is highly sought after not only in China, but now throughout the world.
Ben Austin July 2014