The Ideal Standard

Zhong Ming, a prose write who lives in the Sichuan (basin) area where Yang Mian resides, describes a modern city of China in a requiem to the memory of Haizi like this:" The style of urban construction is in conflict, bold imitations abound, full of political illusions, complicated life experiences, polite but shrewd celebrities, a gradual deterioration of female beauty amidst the windy temperate zone of this continental monsoon climate, busy and tired faces, successful tax dodgers, dubious middle-class people, pretentious conservatives clumsy intentions and behavior upon stepping into first class society, frequent social activities, banquets, ceremonies, glories and dreams, frivolity and heavy anxiety". The reason for including this quote here, which was written some 10 years ago, is not only because of its shockingly accurate forecast of the state of china's culture in the 90s, but also because to a large extent, Zhong Ming's thoughts can be applied to Yang Mian's work; both of which describe precisely the social and cultural background of China's modern art.

Since 1989, two artistic styles which focus on popular culture were born form China's new art movement, political pop and Gaudy Art. These two styles exemplify the art world's proclivity for classify China's contemporary art movement by using developmental threads from western art history as its frame of reference. The temporary locale of political pop is politics, whose defining characteristic reflect equivalent and parallel motifs found in popular culture and political symbols. In comparison, Gaudy Art is a two-way distortion of popular culture and political symbols, whose temporary locale is still politics, though the politics here is mixed with an additional ingredient: one's personal memories. However the two styles may described by critics, they are both aimed at ideology, and popular culture is just the medium they use, rather than their focus. Or one could argue that their only concern is the deconstruction of main stream ideology, and popular culture, in this sense, is nothing but a means to an end. From the beginning of 1994, popular art or consumer art has irrevocably become de facto dominting force in all walks of life in mainland Chinese society. If China's political pop is believed to have some kind of significance because of its ability for predict the recognized effect of popular culture, then Gaudy Art under the same thinking has actually declined to the level of handicraft which can only satisfy the voyeuristic psychology of ocerseas, kitch-seeking," sight-seeing tourists". This is because Gaudy Art, for many Chinese observers, bears little relationship to the changes in contemporary Chinese society. On the other hand, others have argued that no art form delbves deeper into the "Chinese characteristics" of popular culture than political pop. What remains for Gaudy Art may be only a frame of political reference. However, despite the political Pop/Gaudy Art classifications, the fact remains that since the 1980's, China's artists have not paid enough attention to popular culture. Young painters like Yang Mian who were born in the 70s. are actually the beneficiaries of the changes in contemoprary China. In many respects, popular culture now flows through their veins. However, they different from the last two generations of painters in their in their skepticism towards popular culture's ability to become their envoy of happiness. The profundness of Yang Mian lies in his thinking that popular culture is perhaps a double-edged sword that can erase the oppression of power and influence which exists around us. But during the process of providing diversion, popular culture has evolved into a new form of power that creates new means of oppressing those who have ostensibly been liberated from the old power via popular culture. 
We can say that as a young painter who feels the overwhelming force of consumer culture at a much deeper level than others. Yang Mian is able to surpass the narrow, misleading zone of ideology and form a relatively calm means of teflecting on popular culture. His early work "street Fashion Comments" is a revision of the text of the Tang Dynasty painting "Group portrait of Noblewoment"."Group portrait of Noblewomen" is a classic representation of China's ancient people, and in particular, the noble women of the Tang Dynasty, Yang Mian has changed the original ancient noble women into today's fashionable ladies in his painting, while remaining true to the traditional structure and colors of the classical painting. Compared with the peaceful and elegantposture of the figures in the original work, all the contemporary "aristocrats of consumerism" appeat in Yang Mian's work with mobile phones, fashionable clothes, and leather bags of famous btands, all looking extremely busy, how ever still finding time to strike elegant poses for themselves. It can be said that starting from this specific work, Yang Mian's direction of artistic creation was determined, i.e. his creative voice has been extended to "fashion", using his best talents to capture certain characteristics of Chinese society in transition as reflected in fashion's rapid changes. Initially, the creation of "street Fashion Comments" bave Yang Mian the possibility to endlessly compare the interests of our are by graphically revising classical texts. However, Yang Mian gave up such practices and instead went back to the source of fashion and the dreams and behavior of normal Chinese citizens. In this way, he has turned the visual angle of his creation to "advertisement" by uniquely reinterpreting these ads as the new "standard".

Yang Mian reinterprets images of every day advertisements in his own style. All the figures in his paintings have lost the ad-quality brilliance they once had, They are weakened and faded by the painter's use of various techniques until they are teduced to a flat angle, or until a point where they no longer really exist. Even though the paintings are inspired by real ads, they now appear to be covered in a layer of man-made mist. These painterly techniques are no different than an ad man's display to the consumer of an illusory likeness of the "standards" than dominate our life. Here, a smile is no longer a kind of facial expression, nor a display of one's mood. On the contrary, the smile is mask, and indicator of the distance between reality and dreams. The more brilliant the smile, the farther the distance will become, and the higher the standard is for one to reach. Finally, the essence of Yang Mian's works is ground to a monochromatic slash of vibrant color that appears repeatedly throughout the paintings. The mist of those wonderful moments remains for his audience as a dream-like possibility for the vievwe to unveil and approach a certain glory. However, the appearance of this slash of color also forecasts a denial of reality, to a point beyond any salvation. We can even regard it as an intentional in flivtion of damage and cruelty, which confirms the vast distance between today's" ideal standard" of beauty and our own reality.

Yang Mian's Paintings are a bizarre mixture, which rely on a combination of popular advertisement, social criticism and an academic's painting skills which technically shift the images, he recreates the image in an even more elegant fashion than the original. For artist is like Yang Mian, who were brought up in a commercial culture, the relationship between academic and popular culture is as close as the relationship between family and social culture, where the latter in both cases sometimes has more influence than the former. Finally, the painterly shift in images created by Yang Mian produces a two-way social criticism: a snub to academics and a challenge to commercial culture.

The "ideal standard" tefers to Yang Mian's challenge to social standards as they measure up to reality. If we say that his works ask the question: "What are society's standards?", then the unspoken words of the works are: "Who is the producer of these standards?" From the socialist point of view, the existence of advertisement by itself does not necessarily signify the establishment of certain standards; a smile by itself is only a form of seduction. Examined in dividually, Yang Mian's works may cause some viewers to suspect these are just shallow pictures of pretty girls, but once such images become too ubiquitous, shallowness will begin to hide in the intimacy of people and root deeply into the subconscious of the entire society. Yang Mian's works by using satire, trace the overabundance of this shallow existence and the hypocritical nature of such intimacy. In this respect, Yang Mian's works attain a level of much deeper meaning and reflect the individualistic characteristics of the new generation of painters.

Resisting classification as either Gaudy Art or Political Pop, Yang Mian's work represents a deeper understanding of popular culture. Instead of simply using existing images as kind of artistic technique in itself, he goes much further and truns ad images into his own raw materials. In doing so, he manages to avoid the danger of appropriation. Some observers have commented that excessice appropriation may have been the tragic destiny of Chinese painters of earlier generations who fell victim to the phenomenon of being pulled in carious directions by both Eastern and Western political thinkers and art brokers. With the post-cultural revolution opening of China, western art critics' perspectives on Chinese modern art may have distorded the spirit of open and fair criticism among China's own contemporary art critics to a kind of heightened defense of non-western ideology. This then became entangled in Western political views and used as evidence of Western cultural invasion, Yang Mian's works do not fall into this trap and instead display a unique two-way perspective. His critical view is in response to the question of why the commercial aspects of culture have become an entire culture unto themselves, while at the same time, recognizing that the criticism of commercial culture itself does not have the strength of ideology. Even the "ideal standard" is not entirely representative of Chinas commercial culture to some extent, the answer lies with in people themselves interestingly, this phenomenon exists not only in China, but also appears in Japan the united states, Germany or any other commercial culture in the world, finally Yang Mian's talent also lies in his ability to reflect a world-wide phenomenon from the unique perspective of a Chinese social problem. In Yang Mian's works, we view on one lever, a true Chinese scene, the trus psychology of mainland Chinese people, and on the other, the possibility for China's contemporary artworks to bring some pieces of China's genuine, and more importantly, equally valid reality, to the world art stage. 

---Pi Li