Until recently, the way Chinese artists got famous was to talk politics. The generation that grew up during the Cultural Revolution and the difficult years that followed was highly politicized and gained global recognition for its tongue-in-cheek images of Mao Zedong and Tiananmen Square, often rendered in eye-popping color. Wang Guangyi’s kitschy communist-style propaganda posters incorporated iconic consumer logos, such as Coca-Cola and Porsche, and Yue Minjun mocked the fast-changing world with his paintings of large-mouthed men grinning relentlessly.
Though still hot, those new-wave artists are giving way to a very different group: the “me-first” generation, whose members talk about each other and themselves. Born in the 1980s under China’s one-child policy, they were still children during Tiananmen and are much less interested in politics and far more concerned with individuality. Unlike their elders, who use art to criticize the growing commercialism and inequality of post-Mao China, the younger generation is a product of that rapid economic transformation. Their parents doted on them. They’ve been exposed to a broader range of media, including the Internet, videogames, Japanese manga and Korean soap operas. Coffee rather than tea drinkers, they are as comfortable listening to American rock and hip-hop as to Cantonese pop.
Their work reflects their experience, informed by global fashion, technology and media. What they lack in edginess they make up for in innovation and an openness to experimentation with new media, like video and electronic art.