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Dialogue with the West

A Political Message from Avant-Garde Artists in Shanghai Author: Li Cheng and Lynn T. White III 2010

Critics sometimes write as if contemporary Chinese artists must all be culturally globalist and politically rebellious. This article, however, calls attention to strong anticorporate and patriotic trends in works by Shanghai avant-garde artists such as Pu Jie, Shi Yong, Xue Song, Zhou Tiehai, and others. Their art, livelihood, and workplaces often contrast with the modes used by non-avant-garde Shanghai artists such as Chen Yifei. Their politics tends to be subtle, culturally broad, restive but also very different from the politics of antiregime "shock" artists, especially those who live in Beijing's art villages. Shanghai's avant-garde artists use modern media (e.g., computer programs that require viewer participation, international symbols, unusual materials, and performance art), yet their works show a will to start a more critical, international dialogue about the world's and China's growing consumer culture. Messages in their art transcend the usual intellectual boundaries between modernity and tradition, socialism and capitalism, men and women, East and West, politics and culture. These artists are innovators. Westerners in particular should pay them more heed. A close look at their works can introduce us to much that is new about Shanghai politics and thinking in Shanghai.


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