China, Art & Women

I caught up with a colleague and friend, Ellen Pearlman, who is now dividing her time between Beijing and Bushwick (yes, the scrappy Brooklyn neighborhood is attracting the next wave of art cognoscenti). She is an wonderful writer, photographer and film maker and editor-at-large for The Brooklyn Rail who has recently finished Nothing and Everything – the Influence of Buddhism On the New York Avant Garde for Wesleyan University Press (slated to be published in 2009).
I asked her about China’s burgeoning art world and the role women are playing in its increasingly visible scene….and I thought this post was particularly fitting seeing that it is the Chinese and Tibetan New Year.
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HV: For the last year the art press has been touting China’s art market as a boom town, is that an accurate representation?
EP: The art market is a boom town. It is the first time that China has jumped into the forayfray. Like any boom, there is a gold rush mentality both on the side of collectors/speculators and by the artists, which is deeply troubling especially and completely by the artists.
When we talk about the Chinese art world what is it we are taking about. Which Chinese cities are the major hubs of the art world?
The art world is both domestic, overseas returning Chinese and international. The major hubs are Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Christies and Sothebys auctions take place in Hong Kong.
What role do women play in the art world in China? As artists? Curators? Critics? Collectors?
China is where America was in 1963 in terms of women. Fifty percent of art school students are women, yet in terms of museum directors, curators, critics and salable artists women are the dismal minority. The artists who do sell are mostly women who collaborate with their husbands. You can count on your fingers the number of successful female artists.
The Brooklyn Museum has been championing a notion of global feminisms or global feminist art, do you think this is accurate in the context of China? Is there Chinese feminist art? And if so, how is it different?
Just as the Islamic world has purdah and harems and polygamy (not polyandry) China had foot binding. The Communist revolution was supposed to make everyone equal. There are many women politicians, engineers, doctors, business owners but the art world has yet to make the big breakthrough. It is not a notion of feminist art but the ability to allow female voices to be heard and to be in positions of power.
Who are the major Chinese artists (female or male) we should be taking note of?
This is way too big a question. It is very important to take note of the stresses and strains on China and the kind of artists they produced at any one time during any transition. I personally admire the male artist Huang Rui (male) and the female artist Xiao Lu (female) who were part of the 1989 “No U Turn” show that launched an international avant gardeavant-garde. Many of the good artists have become quite rich and but that is a whole other story.
What’s your gut feeling…Is China going to be the driving force for the art world in the 21st?
NY and America are waning and I believe will become like Europe. China, Abu Dhabi, India, this is where things are shifting to. If China does not shoot itself in the foot with human rights and censorship stupidities, just by sheer economic might the focus is shifting and the ball is in their court.
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IMAGE CAPTION: From “Solution Scheme” a collaboration between Xu Na, a former prostitute and Xu Yong, a photographer and gallery owner of 798 Space. Xu Na holds the shutter release in her hand and is in charge of taking the picture. She sells the photograph and makes her living now as an artist splitting the profits with Xy Yojng. That is the solution to the scheme.

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