Fondation Louis Vuitton’s upcoming blockbuster exhibition of artworks by 12 leading mainland Chinese artists is an ambitious endeavour, but few institutions are better placed to reflect on the sheer prolificacy, range and diversity of artworks being produced by the new cultural heavyweight.
The Paris show – which has been arranged in collaboration with the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing – is also likely to highlight how the country’s breakneck economic and social transformation has created a collection of highly skillful and innovative individual artists that defy easy categorisation into a clearly defined art movement or conceptual creative framework.
China’s prolific contemporary art world is so complex, however, that even a show of this magnitude – and featuring renowned artists such as Hao Liang, Qiu Zhijie, Liu Wei and Xu Qu – cannot provide more than the smallest glimpse of what is currently being produced.
But what a glimpse: we’ve got our eye on a few, including the young Beijing-based video artist Cao Fei, whose short poetic films range from heart-stoppingly gritty examinations of the reality of life and work in modern China to fantastical depictions of virtual cities.
Also on our radar is Shanghai’s provocative Xu Zhen, who dabbles in everything from irreverent mixing of classical antiquity with modern Chinese art to creating enormous canvases encrusted with extravagant rosettes of oil paint squeezed from a confectioner’s icing bag.
Titled ‘Bentu’ – a term referencing the concept of motherland or ‘native land’ – the exhibition focuses on artists born in the early 1980s, an intense period of post-Mao avant-garde art that channelled Western ideas, from pop art to post-minimalism.
The works will form a key part of the Fondation’s focus on the Chinese art scene from January to September 2016 that will also include a selection of works (by 11 artists) from its extensive collection including, most notably, Ai Weiwei’s signature Tree installation and Zhang Huan’s monumental yet meditative head of Buddha sculpture.
The Shanghai-based Huan’s Great Leap Forward, a 286 x 1080 cm painting painstakingly created by applying different shades of ash collected from temples onto a linen canvas, is also likely to be a highlight.
The celebration of all things Chinese will also extend to a programme of classical and contemporary music, film and performances, as well as a separate exhibition of Chinese works derived from the Fondation's own collection.