b. 1962, Zhengzhou, Henan
Painter, photographer, video and installation artist
A graduate of the Oil Painting Department of the Zhejiang (now China) Academy of Art in Hangzhou (1985) (see art academies), Geng Jianyi was an early member of the pioneering avant-garde group, the Pond Society, and a major protagonist of the experimental trends that marked the 85 New Wave [Art] Movement during the second half of the 1980s. He is one of the most consistent, engaged and versatile artists on the contemporary scene, having produced an extremely varied array of works in different media. Geng Jianyi emerged on the national scene when his quadriptic, The Second Situation (1987)—portraying a blown-up black-and-white face that sneered with cynical laughter—became one of the icons of the seminal China Avant-Garde exhibition in 1989. With a body of work spanning a period of nearly twenty years and covering media as different as oil painting, video, photography, conceptual art and installation, Geng's oeuvre defies simple definition. Given the statement that he is 'interested in our awareness of what has happened, what is taking place, what will unfold; and our part in the process', Geng's body of work suggests a constant search for meaning beneath the surface of all kinds of appearances, be they social, visual or cultural. Geng is preoccupied with the workings of the social mechanisms of communication, interaction, memory and identity-formation. Some of his most interesting work has taken the form of performative tasks required of normal people, who are instructed to perform certain actions, such as filling forms or writing reports, and which question the significance of embedded social practices and state regulations. His more recent works, such as the photographic series Watermarks, have veered towards an approach focusing on the effects of immediate actions 'here-and-now' that seems inspired by Buddhist philosophical practices in their apparent minimal formal treatment paired with a meditative sensibility. Geng Jianyi lives and works in Hangzhou, where he has been recently hired in the New Media Programme of the China Academy of Fine Arts under the direction of Zhang Peili.
His work has appeared in: 'China Avant-Garde' in Beijing (1989); 'China Avant-Garde' in Berlin (1993), 'China's New Art post-1989' in Hong Kong (1993) and the Venice Biennale (1993); 'Image and Phenomena' a video exhibition in Hangzhou (1996); 'Inside/Out: New Chinese Art' at the Asia Society in New York and the SFMoMA in San Francisco (1998); 'Living in Time' in Berlin (2001); and 'Paris-Pekin' in Paris (2002).
Dreissen, Chris and van Mierlo, Heidi (eds) (1997). Another Long March: Chinese Conceptual and Installation Art in the Nineties. Breda: Fundament Foundation.
Gao, Minglu (1998). 'From Elite to Small Man: The Many Faces of a Transitional Avant-Garde in Mainland China'. In idem (ed.), Inside/Out: New Chinese Art (exhibition catalogue). Berkeley: University of California Press, 149–66.
Hou, Hanru (1996). 'Beyond the Cynical: China Avant-Garde in the 1990s'. ART AsiaPacific 3.1: 42–51.
van Dijk, Hans (1982). 'Painting in China after the Cultural Revolution: Style Developments and Theoretical Debates'. China Information 6.4 (Spring): 1–18.
Yang, Alice (1998). 'Beyond Nation and Tradition: Art in Post-Mao China'. In idem, Why Asia? Contemporary Asian and Asian American Art. New York: New York University Press, 107–18.