The Ullens Center for Contemporary Art opens its 2013 program with ON | OFF: China’s Young Artists in Concept and Practice. This groundbreaking exhibition, which will occupy all UCCA exhibition spaces, marks the most comprehensive survey to date of the generation of artists born after the death of Mao and the end of the Cultural Revolution, and at the dawn of the country’s era of opening and reform. Unparalleled in scope and unprecedented in concept, ON | OFF will feature 50 commissioned works by 50 artists and artist groups.
Curated by Bao Dong and Sun Dongdong, ON | OFF is an effort to effectively document a new generation of Chinese artists born after 1975 who have “grown up in a society and culture beset by binaries, constantly toggling between extremes.” The title ON | OFF, which comes from the graphical interface of a common VPN (virtual private network) software used to scale China’s Internet firewall, represents this binary condition at its simplest and most direct.
The exhibition is rooted in a series of such tensions that intensified in 1999, just as the Internet was becoming implicated into everyday life. Since then, it is precisely this generation of artists that has surfaced and begun to attract attention, as Chinese contemporary art has moved away from the underground scene of the 1990s and a new commercial market and institutional infrastructure have come to replace it. Today’s most notable young artists are the recipients of formal art educations, and many are gradually fitting into a rising gallery system. They exhibit a strong tendency toward self-organization and collective practice, yet represent a wider diversity of individual subjectivities and styles than ever before seen in China. They actively participate in the emergence of new art institutions even as they question and mediate these developments. Unlike previous generations, they stay informed of international developments in real time, even as they continue to run up against a distinct and specific set of constraints and challenges.
ON | OFF is above all a research project, drawing on preparatory visits to more than 200 artists in cities including Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing, Wuhan, and Shenyang. Accompanied by a wide range of publications and programs, the exhibition aims to articulate a generational sensibility by highlighting individual positions. “Since its founding in 2007, the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art has been a platform for presenting the freshest artistic voices in China, and for placing them into the twin contexts of Chinese art history and the international conversation around contemporary art,” said UCCA director Philip Tinari. “We are extremely excited to mount an exhibition that will showcase the wide range and high caliber of work being made in China today.”