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Art of China - Contemporary Art

Contemporary Art

During the past two decades there has also been a tremendous upsurge of interest in contemporary Asian, including Chinese, art and artists throughout the art field. China has become a global player not only in economic development, but also in art, including performing arts.

Chinese art students arrived on the European scene in the 1920s; by the 1930s all of the current artistic modes of the West had been introduced into China. With the Communist takeover in 1949 the parameters for art were changed. During the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, especially during the 1960s= cultural revolution, Chinese artists were insulated and isolated from cultural developments in the West, such as pop art. As a result of the Aopen door@ policy in the early 1980s, all kinds of western modern art flooded into China and polarized Chinese artists into two camps: those who wanted to follow the West and those who wanted to cling to tradition.

The advent of post-modernism created two different views: one is that post-modernism is not possible in China due to its economic, cultural and artistic conditions and that a regional Sinified art is the answer; the other is that China should embrace post-modernism, believing that ancient Chinese civilization has become a burden. Exhibitions of modern Chinese art during the late 1980s were mostly descriptive and narrative, aiming at winning greater freedom, showing the world that China, too, has modern art. In fact, it edged toward its own brand of modernism within boundaries approved by the authorities. However, contemporary Chinese art may receive much greater exposure and gain greater interest in the West than in its own native land. As evidence, we have seen a number of works published on the subject.

Andrews, Julia. Painters and Politics in the People=s Republic of China, 1949-1979. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.

Comprehensive overview with detailed documentation and extensive bibliographical references.

_____ and Gao Minglu. Fragmented Memory: the Chinese Avant-garde in Exile. Columbus, OH: Wexner Center for the Arts, Ohio State University, 1993.

A slim catalog of an exhibition held at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Ohio State University, in 1993, showing Chinese Avant-garde artists.

Chang, Arnold. Painting in the People=s Republic of China : the Politics of Style. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1980.

Outlines major artistic policy and the interaction between politics and art in China, discussing the effect of these policies on artists and their response, and focusing on three painters, Guan Shanyue, Li Keran and Qian Songyan.

China Avant-garde: Counter-currents in Art and Culture. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1994.

The AChina/Avant-garde@ exhibition opened in Beijing on Feb. 5, 1989 and closed quickly after someone opened fire in the East Wing of Chinese National Gallery. The essays survey various stages of modern Chinese art, music and photography. The book also gives a list of modern Chinese artists of the 1980s and 1990s.

China=s New Art, Post-1989. Hong Kong: Hanart T Z Gallery, 1993.

An exhibition catalog with a retrospective from 1979-1989, with essays discussing major trends in the development of contemporary Chinese art, relationships between artists and the government, the orthodox and the Avant-garde, influence and fate of Western contemporary art in China, and painting after June 4, 1989.

Ch=uan t=ung y@u ch=uang hsin : erh shih shih chi Chung-kuo hui hua = Tradition and Innovation : Twentieth Century Chinese Painting. Hong Kong: Urban Council, 1995.

An catalog of a traveling exhibition in Hong Kong, Singapore, England and Germany, 1995-1997, with four essays, among them ATradition and Innovation in Twentieth Century Chinese Painting@ by Chu-tsing Li. Examples are chiefly in traditional style. In Chinese and English.

Chung-kuo hsien tai mei shu kuo chi hs@ueh shu yen t=ao hui lun wen chi = International Conference, China: Modernity and Art. Taipei: Taipei Fine Arts Museum, 1991.

In Chinese or English, or English summaries. Papers of the 1990 conference in Taipei, Taiwan, describing modernity in Chinese art and modern art in Japan and Korea, among the authors are Chu-tsing Li, Shen Fu and Michael Sullivan.

Chung-kuo tang tai nü hua chia = Contemporary Chinese Women Painters. Beijing: Foreign Language Press, 1995.

An album of 69 women artists= works with an essay, both in Chinese and English, giving an overview of painting by Chinese women painters.

Clarke, David. Art & Place : Essays on Art from a Hong Kong Perspective. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1996.

Discusses a wide range of topics, such as, in section 1, museums, art and its contexts, policy issues, such as the provision of the establishment of an Arts Development Council. Section 2 includes art in Hong Kong and western influences.

Cohen, Joan Lebold. The New Chinese Painting, 1949-1986. New York: Abrams, 1987.

Gives an overview of Chinese painting and painters during this period, with details on the new waves, realism and beyond, and peasant and New Year=s painting, with focus on art since 1979. Includes useful lists of proper names, groups and institutions in pinyin and Chinese characters.

Croizier, Ralph. Art and Revolution in Modern China: the Lingnan (Cantonese) School of Painting, 1906-1951. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

Focuses on the regional Lingnan school of painting, interaction with other schools, and the nation, and the second generation painters who remained after 1949 and their roles in the art life of the new order.

Galikowski, Maria. Art and Politics in China, 1949-1984. Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 1998.

Based on the author=s thesis at Leeds University, the work looks at the first three decades of the People=s Republic of China, called the formative, 1949-1956, the vacillating, 1956-1966, and the stormy years, 1966-1976. The final chapter discusses the new era, the discovery of Athe self@, 1976-1984. Has an extensive bibliography.

Inside Out: New Chinese Art, edited by Gao Minglu. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1998.

Catalog of a traveling exhibition at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Asia Society Galleries, New York, Tacoma Art Museum in Seattle, Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, Monterrey, Mexico, and several Asian museums, 1998-2000. The essays discuss transnational modernity, Chinese modern/postmodern art, a transitional Avant-garde movement in China, one essay on Taiwan, one on Hong Kong and one on overseas Chinese artists. A useful chronology of cultural events in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, such as exhibitions and publication of art journals, is appended.

Kraus, Richard Curt. Brushes with Power: Modern Politics and the Chinese Art of Calligraphy. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.

Calligraphy here serves as a social and political institution, thus being examined with a new perspective. It focuses on the relationship between power and calligraphy due to its unique prestige in China.

Laing, Ellen Johnston. The Winking Owl: Art in the People=s Republic of China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

A good overview of Chinese art between 1950s and 1970s, touching upon woodcuts in twentieth China and the political and artistic significance of the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall.

Modernity in Asian Art, [The University of Sydney East Asian series; no. 7], edited by John Clark. Broadway NSW, Australia: Wild Peony, 1993.

Contains revised papers delivered at the conference entitled AModernism and Post-modernism in Asian Art@ held in Canberra in March 1991. Among them are AThe Art Movement in the 1930s in Taiwan,@ AChinese Art in the 1950s: An Avant-garde Undercurrent beneath the Mainstream of Realism,@ AAfter the Empire: Chinese Painters of the Post-war Generation in Taiwan,@ and AIs There Post-modern Art in the Peoples= Republic of China?@

Silbergeld, Jerome and Gong Jisui. Contradictions: Artistic Life, the Socialist State, and the Chinese Painter Li Huasheng. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1993.

Featuring Li Huasheng, an artist born in 1944, the author provides an account of the working conditions of contemporary Chinese art professionals. One can learn much about Chinese institutions that provide salaries, libraries and social connections, and the politics of interpersonal relations.

Strassberg, Richard E., ed. AI Don=t Want to Play Cards with Cezanne@ and Other Works: Selections from the Chinese ANew Wave@ and AAvant-garde@ Art of the Eighties. Pasadena, CA: Pacific Asia Museum, 1991.

Short essays describe artistic creativity and the Avant-garde movement of Chinese painting in the eighties. An exhibition catalog.

Sullivan, Michael. Art and Artists of Twentieth-century China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

Consists of five parts: 1900-1937: the impact of the West; 1937-1949: War and civil war; 1949-1976: art in the era of Mao Zedong; other currents; after Mao, art enters a new era. With a selected bibliography and index. A detailed overview.

Twentieth-century Chinese painting, edited by Mayching Kao. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Contains proceedings of the symposium on twentieth-century Chinese painting, looking at tradition and continuity in Chinese painting on the one side and a search for modernity on the other. Developments in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan are also discussed.

Through an Open Door: Selections from the Robert A. Hefner III Collection of Contemporary Chinese Oil Paintings. Oklahoma City: Portfolio Editions, 1997.

An example of one of the representative trends in contemporary Chinese art, oil painting, with realism as the main stream.

Yang, Alice. Why Asia? Contemporary Asian and Asian American Art. New York: New York University Press, 1997.

A collection of essays by Alice Yang, edited by Jonathan Hay and MimiYoung, containing the author=s critical work, which provides Aunderstanding of the multiple contexts in which we view and think about contemporary Asian and Asian American art.@


Art AsiaPacific, ISSN 1039-3625, quarterly. Sydney, Australia: Fine Arts Press, 1994(?)- Email: . Subscribe: Art AsiaPacific, c/o G+B Magazine, Inc. PO Box 32160, Newark, NJ 07102. Focuses on contemporary Asian art.

The Art Newspaper, International Edition, ISSN 0960-6556, monthly except August. London : U. Allemandi, 1983- Subscription Dept., FULCO, PO Box 3000, Denville, NJ 07834. Deals with events, politics and economics, lists exhibitions, archaeological discoveries, art market and commercial listings. (For example, one can read an exhibition review of  Inside Out at Asia Society and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, on p. 29 of vol. 10, no. 84 (Sept. 1998).

Asian Art News, ISSN 1023-5884, bimonthly. Hong Kong: Asian Art News, 1991(?)- Email: Deals with contemporary Asian art, information on new artists, galleries, museums and art trends from Hong Kong, China, Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, Korea, India, Australia, etc., online magazine, traditional and contemporary sections,, monthly.

Eastern Art Report, ISSN 1269-8404, six times a year. London: Eastern Art Pub., 1989- Published in association with the Centre for Near East Afro-Asia Research.

As an example, the entire issue of vol. 4, no. 4 (1997) is devoted to AChinese art in the 1990s: cross-influences and cross-currents.@

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Prepared by the Library of the Freer Gallery of Art
and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

in cooperation with Public Inquiry Services,
Smithsonian Institution

revised 11 October 2000


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