CDT Bookshelf: Richard Vine’s “New China, New Art”

Richard Vine, the Asian editor for Art in America and a long- observer of China’s contemporary art scene, has written a new book called, “New China, New Art,” which chronicles the origins of the work of Zhang Huan and other and looks at how consumption of the art by a western audience has influenced it. From a review on

The art critic Richard Vine, a senior editor at Art and America and for many years one of the few incorruptible observers of China’s cultural scene, recounts this in his new critical survey called New China New Art, published by Prestel.[1] Today’s Chinese avant-gardists do not “share either the political intent or the reckless bravery of the Tiananmen organizers,” he notes. “The cruel lesson of June 4, 1989 is that repression sometimes works.”

[…] Look up Chinese art history and you won’t find chapters on illusionistic painting or abstraction or high modernism. Traditional Chinese art is limited to calligraphic ink on paper. So today’s hot Chinese artists, who skillfully replicate the contemporary practices of Western art, never passed through the history that created it. “Mao Zedong, having set out to establish a Communist utopia,” notes Vine, “inadvertently paved the way—at the cost of forty to seventy million peacetime lives—for a postmodern par excellence.”

And from Art Journal:

Vine divides New China, New Art into sections according to medium: painting, sculpture & installation, performance, photography and video, while at the same time remaining artist-centric in approach. Some 125 Chinese artists are featured overall, including details on each of their backgrounds and careers.

However, it would be impossible to produce a book of this kind without addressing the social history of China and the repression under which artists have traditionally produced their art. While covering the major events such as the effects of Tiananmen Square, New China, New Art intertwines fascinating and lesser known events such as the Shanghai Biennale of 2004, in which a group show of abstract works was open for only four hours before being closed by authorities.

Chinese artists, says Vine, are unique in that they have undergone virtually overnight, a complete shift from a period of enforced people’s art to that of eclectic postmodernism. This was so, writes Vine, without ever passing through a period of high-minded modernism, as in the Western world. Thus, the effects of the ‘capitalism yes; democracy no’ stance taken by the country’s governments, can also be seen in the contemporary art market – the importance of the flow of capital in this domain should not be underestimated.

Read also:
– Reviews on Art Critical and Red Box Studio.
Art in America’s website
– A 2007 article in the New York Times about artist Zhang Huan
CDT’s coverage of contemporary art

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