‘Christian Dior and Chinese Artists’, which opened November 15 at Beijing's Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, is the latest public clinch between fashion and art. As well as sumptuous and outrageously flamboyant recent Dior pieces by John Galliano and original Christian Dior creations, the show also features specially commissioned works by top Chinese artists, whose brief was to comment on what Dior is, stands for, or makes - basically they had to artistically express Dior.
Conceptually it's a mixed bag but the ambition and visual results are pretty amazing. Li Songsong's 23-feet high Lady Dior Bag is made out of carefully interlaced fluorescent tubes; Wang Qingsong has created an epic Last Supper featuring beautiful fashion models in new Galliano outfits and the artist himself as Jesus in hospital pyjamas (hospital drips replace the holy bread and wine).
There’s also a recreation of the Dior atelier in white porcelain by the ceramicist Liu Jianhua, and a ten feet high painting of Galliano by graffiti artist Zhang Dali (whose graffiti tag is 'AK 47').
Chinese art has been hot for at least ten years but never hotter than now. It follows contemporary art everywhere in being rather attention grabbing and sensational, shunning abstraction and subtlety, going for the headlines, but it deserves special consideration because of the unique historical context.
Until relatively recently Chinese art was all official bland portraits of the leader and slogan-infested propaganda for heroic workers. As China opened up to the west economically, the official hold on art was relaxed and artists emerged who were willing to respond to the odd new situation that China found itself in.
A new society, neither east nor west but a hybrid of the two, with the general population full of anxiety about the new spirit of the times: afraid that progress might be overwhelming and at the same time that it might not come fast enough. That weird double-edged threat/promise explains the mood of new Chinese art, and the appeal in particular of this art and fashion celebration.
It's not a lot of mutual back slapping, but a rather strange party full of bizarre bitter-sweet sights.
For ‘Christian Dior and Chinese Artists’ Lu Hao makes a huge architectural installation out of Plexiglas that houses the ‘muguet,’ the iconic Dior flower. Lu Hao is famous for using his architectural pieces to comment on the real estate scams that go on in China, where buildings will go up very quickly once the finance is in place but the buildings remain half finished and empty of residents. Wang Qingsong's Last Supper is also situated in a mock-up of such a building. The artists want to celebrate luxury but also draw attention to injustice: they don't just say the right left-leaning things – they really go for it.