At the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, My Generation: Young Chinese Artists presents works by artists born in mainland China after 1976. They are products of China’s one-child policy and have grown up during a time of rapid urbanization, globalization, and cultural transition.
By the end of Mao’s Cultural Revolution in 1976, China’s economy had been ruined, its historical and visual culture had been destroyed, and the arts had been restricted to propaganda. New party leadership and reformed economic policies of 1978 opened the country to foreign investment and private industry that have led to unprecedented economic growth and social change.
In 1976, China was agricultural and its population was rural. Since 1978, its economy has expanded annually by 10 percent and surpassed the U.S. as the world’s largest economy in 2014. China has over 160 cities with a population above 1 million, and more than half of its 1.4 billion people live in urban areas. About two-thirds of them are under age 35.
China’s cultural expansion has been as momentous. It became the world’s largest art market with recorded sales in 2013 exceeding $8.5 billion. The government’s policy to develop culture resulted in the construction of over 450 new museums last year, and China now counts over 3,800 museums. The artists in this exhibition, and the 900 million Chinese of their generation, experience incredible and ever-increasing urbanization and cultural transformation.
Three of our favorite works are by artists based in Beijing.
Chi Peng’s self-portrait contrasts a corporeal nude figure with a monumental, reflective, and cold skyscraper. The urban environment is unyielding, and the figure exemplifies China’s one-child policy.
Liu Chuang’s filmed performance shows two cars side-by-side on busy streets and freeways. They disrupt traffic by maintaining the minimum speed limit, indicating the speed of urban life, disconnected from humanity, while committing a careful act of subversion.
Liu Di’s images of gigantic animals towering over drab housing structures could seem monstrous, but their assertion in urban landscapes is a visual reversal of the loss of natural habitat to urban development.
My Generation: Young Chinese Artists was organized by the Tampa Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, and curated by Barbara Pollack. The exhibition closes on January 18.