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Indepth Arts News:

"Canceled: Exhibiting Experimental Art in China"
2000-11-19 until 2001-01-07
Smart Museum of Art
Chicago, IL, USA United States of America

Exhibition raises questions about artistic freedom, censorship, and the relationship between experimental art and society at large. The contemporary artists and curators who make and exhibit experimental works in mainland China face many challenges, including persistent state censorship. Wu Hung, the Harrie A. Vanderstappen Distinguished Service Professor in Chinese Art History at the University of Chicago, designed Canceled as an unconventional project. Unlike most exhibitions, its subject is not an artist or a group of art works, but an exhibition canceled by the Chinese government.

Through a tightly focused installation and comprehensive catalogue, Canceled will evoke the milieu of contemporary Chinese artists, foster the (re)discovery of a canceled exhibition, and call attention to the implications of such cancellations.

Chinese artists and critics use the term experimental art (shiyan meishu) to describe an important strand of contemporary Chinese art. Wu Hung notes that this art shows three consistent characteristics: a penchant for new art forms and materials, an interest in reinventing the language of artistic expression, and the self-positioning of the artist outside, or on the border of, official and academic art. While such experimental Chinese art has attracted international attention during recent years, it is still struggling for basic acceptance at home. Tightened control over experimental art exhibitions by official establishments has resulted in the cancellation of at least 10 exhibitions in Beijing and Shanghai alone over the last three years. This control has forced experimental artists to explore new ways to show their works and to find new allies, patrons and audiences - - an effort which is encouraged by the enormous changes in Chinese society and the economic system during recent years.

Canceled will explore this situation through an innovative installation that focuses on one particular canceled exhibition. The cancellation of the exhibition It1s Me (Beijing, 1998; curated by Leng Lin) will be evoked through a striking installation designed by Wu Hung in collaboration with visual artist Song Dong, documentary filmmaker Wu Wenguang, and the Smart Museum. As Wu Hung notes, in re-presenting this event, Canceled will raise issues central to the current discussion among Chinese experimental artists, curators and critics: the problems of how to respond to official antagonism, how to realize the potential of experimental art in the public sphere, and how to maintain the independence of this art in an increasingly commercialized society.

Canceled will be particularly interesting to American audiences not only because of its focus on contemporary Chinese art and the conditions of its production and exhibition, but also in light of our own debates concerning controversial contemporary art and its exhibition in this country, said Kimerly Rorschach, Dana Feitler Director of the Smart Museum. This project raises important questions about artistic freedom, censorship and the relationship between experimental art and society at large.

Canceled: Exhibiting Experimental Art in China will be accompanied by a 224-page, fully illustrated catalogue by Wu Hung that documents the exhibition and contexualizes it with a discussion of current trends in Chinese experimental art. The catalogue also contains a rich collection of primary materials that document eleven other recent exhibitions of experimental art in China. The catalogue will be an essential component of the exhibition and will also outlive the exhibition as a significant addition to the developing scholarship on contemporary Chinese culture.

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