Commissioned by Qatar Museums, contemporary artist CAI Guo-Qiang has devoted three years to the curatorial research and development of the large-scale exhibition What About the Art? Contemporary Art from China. The exhibition will open at Qatar Museums’ 3,500-square-meter Gallery Al Riwaq on March 14, 2016 featuring works by 15 living artists and artist collectives born in Mainland China: Jenova CHEN, HU Xiangqian, HU Zhijun, HUANG Yong Ping, LI Liao, LIANG Shaoji, LIU Wei, LIU Xiaodong, Jennifer Wen MA, SUN Yuan & PENG Yu, WANG Jianwei, XU Bing, XU Zhen, YANG Fudong, and ZHOU Chunya.
Recent critical reception of contemporary Chinese art has focused largely on sociopolitical issues and record market prices. In response to the lack of detailed consideration given to contemporary Chinese artists’ artistic value and originality, the exhibition confronts the contemporary art world with the questions: What about the art itself? How do these Chinese artists contribute to the creativity of contemporary art?
What About the Art? Contemporary Art from China examines the issue of creativity—a topic rarely touched upon in the multitude of exhibitions on Chinese contemporary art. The exhibition aims to illuminate a set of current practices by Chinese artists that attempt to challenge the Chinese traditional aesthetics and the Western art historical canon. By presenting each artist’s works in an independent gallery space, the exhibition highlights their individual pursuit of artistic expressions, concepts, methodologies and attitudes. Their diverse bodies of work cross the media of painting, sculpture, installation, video, performance, and interactive video game design. This exhibition offers a unique perspective to the contemporary art world, shifting an emphasis from its idiomatic language of criticism, biography, and context, to a focus on the artworks themselves.
CAI Guo-Qiang has also invited scholar WANG Mingxian to curate Timeline, a gallery display featuring archival documents, images, and data of contemporary Chinese art covering the period from 1949 to present. This gallery will provide visitors with a rare glimpse into the historical and cultural development of contemporary Chinese art by revealing its parallel and conflicting relationship with mainstream Chinese culture.
The exhibition catalogue, to be published in Chinese, English, and Arabic, is conceived and edited by CAI Guo-Qiang. It crystalizes the three years of field research, over the course of which 250 pivotal exhibitions on Chinese Art were surveyed and over 20 art historians, critics, and curators were interviewed. The catalogue includes essays by internationally renowned scholars Terry Smith, Jerome Silbergeld and WANG Hui in addition to contributions by featured artists, along with a timeline reviewing major events in the history of contemporary Chinese art.
What About the Art? will feature a 60-minute documentary film under the same title, directed by Shanshan Xia and produced by 33 Studio NY. The documentary examines the pursuit of creativity in our contemporary society – both in and outside of China. By recording the curator’s dialogues with artists, critics, and scholars, the film reveals the exhibition’s curatorial concept. By combining the artwork and exhibition production process with China’s encompassing cityscapes the film offers a window into contemporary Chinese culture and society.
As a key program in the 2016 Qatar-China Year of Culture, the exhibition has received generous support from China National Arts Fund, Beijing Municipal Bureau of Culture, and Shanghai International Culture Association.
About Qatar Museums
Qatar Museums connects the museums, cultural institutions and heritage sites in Qatar and creates the conditions for them to thrive and flourish. It centralises resources and provides a comprehensive organisation for the development of museums and cultural projects, with a long term ambition of creating a strong and sustainable cultural infrastructure for Qatar. Under the patronage of His Highness the Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and led by its Chairperson, Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, QM is consolidating Qatar’s efforts to become a vibrant centre for the arts, culture and education, in the Middle East and beyond.
Since its foundation in 2005, QM has overseen the development of the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA), Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, and the Al Zubarah World Heritage Site Visitor Centre. The QM also manages the QM Gallery at Katara Cultural Village, the ALRIWAQ DOHA Exhibition Space and the Fire Station: Artists in Residence. Future projects include the launch of the highly anticipated National Museum of Qatar and the 3-2-1 Qatar Olympic and Sports Museum.
QM is committed to instigating Qatar’s future generation of arts, heritage and museum professionals. At its core is a commitment to nurturing artistic talent, creating opportunities and developing the skills to service Qatar’s emerging art economy. By means of a multi-faceted program and public art initiatives, QM seeks to push the boundaries of the traditional museum model, and create cultural experiences that spill out onto the streets and seek to involve a wide audience. Through a strong emphasis on originating art and culture from within and fostering a spirit of national participation, QM is helping Qatar find its own distinctive voice in today’s global cultural debates.
About Cai Guo-Qiang
Cai Guo-Qiang was born in 1957 in Quanzhou City, Fujian Province, China. He currently lives and works in New York.
His work crosses multiple mediums within art, including drawing, installation, video, performance, and exhibition curating. While living in Japan from 1986 to 1995, he explored the properties of gunpowder in his drawings, an inquiry that eventually led to his experimentation with explosives on a massive scale and to the development of his signature explosion events. Drawing upon Eastern philosophy and contemporary social issues as a conceptual basis, these projects and events aim to establish an exchange between viewers and the larger universe around them, utilizing a site-specific approach to culture and history.
Over the past thirty years, Cai Guo-Qiang has realized large-scale exhibitions and projects across different geographic locations and cultures, including solo exhibition Cai Guo-Qiang: Saraab at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, Qatar (2011), Cai Guo-Qiang; 1040m Underground in Donetsk, Ukraine (2011), One Night Stand (Aventure d’un Soir), explosion event for Nuit Blanche (2013), a citywide art and culture festival organized by the city of Paris. His 2008 retrospective exhibition I Want to Believe broke attendance records at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. In the same year, he served as Director of Visual and Special Effects for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies in Beijing. In 2013, his solo exhibition Da Vincis do Povo in Brazil went on a three-city tour around the country and was the most visited exhibition by a living artist worldwide that year with over one million visitors.
As part of his artistic endeavor, Cai developed a series of projects in which he served as a museum director and an exhibition curator to present the work by other artists and non-artists. These projects include the Everything is Museum series (since 2000), in which he converted unexpected spaces in Italy, Japan, Taiwan, and Cuba into small-scale exhibition venues for rural communities and small towns. Cai was also the curator of the first China Pavilion at the 51st Venice Biennale in 2005.
Cai Guo-Qiang was awarded the Golden Lion at the 48th Venice Biennale in 1999, and the Praemium Imperiale in 2012. He was among the five artists honored with the first U.S. Department of State Medal of Arts award in 2012.