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Stolen treasures from modern China

(book Introduction) 2009

The early 1990s in China, despite everything, were in many ways an age of innocence. Especially, in the arts, as well as with the population in general, it was a time of discovery, in some ways a dreamland, as foreigners, the Chinese people and China itself, all had no idea what the future held. But still there were some practioners, who carried on regardless. It was all about diplomacy, honesty, and getting things done. The market came about later, as well as the new society we live in today. So for this show we have chosen some works, seminal and unknown, to show how minds were working at that time, and how this transposed over the years into the future, a historical flux. How we arrived in our current situation. Historical artifacts stolen by a small group of artists are presented here today for your consideration. Their nationalities do not really matter, it is about humanity.

The giddiness, the flux of history, is a confusing beast. We have all suffered decades of radical change, and so here is a reaction, perhaps simple, in appearance, but history edits down what we remember and what will be remembered. Hopefully this edition will in part reflect what was stolen and what was lost, and what will come to be.

The nature of intransigent cultural theft is a complex issue, as physical objects post 1949 are considered free from governmental control, to some extent, at least as commodities. But, as yet, it has not yet been really addressed what is the value of artworks created in the early 90s within the context of international dialogue within the Chinese phenomenon of reform and progressive change.

There are many logical traps which catch out the observers of the Chinese reform process. There is especially a lack of understanding of what are the cultural and artistic processes that have fed the rapid and ongoing changes in the cultural field. Maybe in some ways it takes a special kind of mind, or personality, to stand outside this, what has been, an overly dramatic change process in a society of 1.5 billion. It has been too much, too quick.

But within and without it all have been various artists. So Thomas Fuesser’s photos reflect the initial innocence of China’s seminal artists, Zhou Tiehai looks at the, in some ways, naive process by which artists can became artists, and how he himself has evolved into the Chinese art world’s diplomat. Chris Gill’s work looks at society, and how people were, in their simple utopian state before the capitalist ideals sucked their souls, that innocence of hope that existed between one ideology and another, his recent paintings are more conflicted, looking the later scene that evolved after his halcyon experiences in the Yuanmingyuan art village in Beijing, and the changes wrought in the people around him. Andy Hall looks more at the materialistic side of the economic reform process, with his profound observations in three dimensions.

Several of the works also reflect on the historical impact of foreign personalities on the Chinese art world - in this edition the focus is on Hans van Dijk and Lorenz Hebling.

It cannot be ignored that foreign dealers, gallerists, curators and critics have played a major role in the development of Chinese art. For the first time some external observers, in the position of artists, have commented on this position of the international mix that has led to the historical flux process that has created, and will create, contemporary Chinese art. But the main point is to present to the Chinese public at large that the whole creation of modern art in China is a joint process of collaboration between East and West.

Can a westerner steal from Chinese culture - and similarly can an easterner steal from the west?


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