The Top 10 Chinese Artists (Not Named Ai Weiwei)

Although everyone’s favorite dissident Ai Weiwei steals most of the headlines, China is home to an explosive contemporary art scene. Though as diverse as its billion-strong population, contemporary Chinese artists often grapple with convergence and upheaval, exploring the intersection of tradition and technology, communism and capitalism, and Eastern and Western styles. Here are the ten most popular on Artsy.


10. Zhu Jinshi

Influenced by German Expressionism (and a co-founder of the avant-garde Stars group along with Ai), Zhu produces abstract paintings whose surfaces are built up with thick, near-sculptural layers of oil paint.


9. Zhang Xiaogang

Best known for his “Bloodlines: The Big Family” series of the 1990s, Zhang draws on memory to paint portraits that fuse his personal history with the legacy of the Cultural Revolution.


8. Li Shan

A founding member of Political Pop, Li is best known for his Warholian portraits of Chairman Mao from the 1990s, as well as his more recent “biological art”—semi-abstract images of plants and animals.


7. Yang Fudong

A pioneering filmmaker known for his dreamy, ambiguous films, Yang also photographs staged tableaux that carry his signature surrealistic aesthetic.


6. Mao Yan

In his luminous, soft-toned oil portraits, Mao uses as few brushstrokes as possible in an effort to capture an essence rather than likeness. “Excessive attention to representation could only lead to narrow-mindedness,” he has said.


5. Xu Zhen

No stranger to controversy, Xu is notorious for The Starving of Sudan (2008), a live tableau he constructed in a gallery that featured a live African toddler and a mechanized vulture. In more recent works he has explored Japanese BDSM culture.


4. Yue Minjun

Influenced early on by surrealism, Yue is best known for inserting himself into canonical works from art history via grotesquely grinning, vibrantly exaggerated self-portraits.


3. Liu Xiaodong

Strongly influenced by Lucien Freud, Liu paints his intimate portraits spontaneously from snapshots of friends, family, and everyday life.


2. Zhang Huan

Perhaps China’s best-known conceptual artist, Zhang rose to prominence in the 1990s with his performances involving the masochistic treatment of his naked body. His works in sculpture and other mediums further explore his interest in the human form.


1. Zeng Fanzhi

Inspired by German expressionism, world-renowned painter Zeng explores alienation and isolation through his references to historical figures and dark aspects of humanity (as in his famous “Meat” series), often rendered in grotesque exaggeration.