In China, a Headless Mao Is a Game of Cat and Mouse
The New York Times profiles the Gao Brothers and looks at the limits on contemporary art in China today. One of the Gaos most famous works is a statue of Mao Zedong with a removable head:
“It’s something I hope all Chinese people will one day be able to accept and understand,” Gao Zhen, 53, said of the work. “We wanted to portray him as a human being, a regular person confessing for the wrongs he’s committed.”
On Sept. 3 the head came out for a Gao brothers “party” — the code name for one of the invitation-only private exhibitions they hold several times a year. The location of the exhibition was not disclosed until several hours beforehand and spread via word of mouth and coded text message. Outside the closed doors of their private home studio, a staff member kept watch for unwelcome visitors.
Removable heads and underground exhibitions are just two of the guerrilla tactics the Gao brothers have employed, often with the help of Melanie Ouyang, their broker, to enable fans and friends to view their work. The Gaos are part of a generation of avant-garde Chinese artists who are pushing the boundaries of artistic expression. In the increasingly open Chinese art world, nudity is commonplace where it used to be forbidden, and art parodying the Cultural Revolution has become so ubiquitous that it is passé. Still, the Gaos are a reminder that, especially as China celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Communist revolution, limits to expression remain: although artists are increasingly free to deal with social and political topics, works that explicitly criticize Chinese leaders or symbols of China are still out of bounds.
The Wall Street Journal also recently looked at the state of contemporary art in China but took a slightly different take on the subject.