Meet the Next Generation of Chinese Artists

Art is an expression of the past and the present: of the time and place in which it was created, but also the cultural heritage and history that brought us and the artist to the current moment. Yet what happens when there emerges a new generation of artists who have no memory of the recent past?

A group show at Klein Sun Gallery poses that very question. The nine artists featured in “New voices: a dsl collection story,” now on view in New York, were all born in China. And they were all born in 1976 or later—just as the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) drew to a close. For them, that social and political upheaval—indeed, much of modern Chinese history—can only be glimpsed, if at all, through stories, documentaries, and news clippings.

These nine artists—Chen Wei, Gao Lei, Gao Weigang, Hou Yong, Hu Weiyi, Li Wei, Wang Yuyang, Wang Sishun, and Zhao Zhao—represent a generation with different historical reference points than their parents and grandparents. Unbound by the burden of memory, they’re free to experiment and push boundaries in their respective mediums. The startling results are new critiques of contemporary culture and Chinese identity, including its role within the broader global context.

Unsurprisingly, many of these works engage with themes related to politics and the economy. Gao Lei’s R-312 (2014), a forbidding mixed-media piece made with compressed carpet and stainless steel mesh, calls to mind a cage or enclosure—a possible reference to the oppressive tactics of authoritative bodies and law enforcement. Nearby, Chen Wei’s Coins #4 (2012) plays with the value of money. The smattering of small change may not add up to much, but the dirty coins gleam in the filtered light.

Other works feel like examinations of human psychology. Hu Weiyi’s Flirt installation (2014)—a series of sensuous photographs connected by lines of fluorescent neon lights—meditates on desire and sexuality.

In another corner, Li Wei’s halting Hollow Man – Auditory Hallucination (2008) sculpture oozes vulnerability. Though merely painted fiberglass and situated on the floor, the bust is achingly alive and somewhat reminiscent of another famous bust: that of Mao Zedong, cofounder of the Chinese Communist Party. Chairman Mao died in 1976—the same year the oldest artists in this show were born.


—Bridget Gleeson


New voices: a dsl collection story” is on view at Klein Sun Gallery, New York, May 7–Jun. 18, 2016.

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