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"Dreaming of the Dragon's Nation"
2004-10-27 until 2005-01-16
Irish Museum of Modern Art
Dublin, , IE

A major exhibition by some 50 contemporary Chinese artists opens to the public at the Irish Museum of Modern Art on Wednesday 27 October 2004.  Dreaming of the Dragon's Nation: Contemporary Art from China is the largest exhibition of Chinese art ever shown in Ireland and forms part of the China/Ireland Cultural Exchange, an intergovernmental project to promote cultural links between the two countries. The exhibition will be officially opened by John O’Donoghue TD, Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism and Zhou Heping, Vice Minister for Culture for the People’s Republic of China, on Tuesday 26 October at 6.00pm. Already, as part of the overall collaboration, Views from an Island, comprising two exhibitions from IMMA's Collection, was shown in Beijing and Shanghai earlier this year.

The exhibition is drawn primarily from the collection of the Shanghai Art Museum, one of the most vibrant centres in the increasingly dynamic Chinese contemporary art scene; the exhibition will also include a number of works borrowed directly from the participating artists. Curated by Li Xu, the Director of Academic Research Department at the museum, it presents 59 works, including painting, sculpture, installation, photography and video. In all, the show provides a fascinating overview of the state of the visual arts in modern-day China. Li Xu sees the exhibition as reflecting the many complex concerns of contemporary Chinese society, from the "unique historical context and cultural experience" to which the country is heir, to the desire to forge a contemporary culture that is entirely its own. In his text in the catalogue which accompanies the exhibition, he describes how cultural life in China continues to emerge strongly from a difficult period following the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s.

The exhibition begins with the New Wave movement of the mid-1980s when Chinese artists turned away from the production of clichéd, propagandist works and started to create work based on western models of art making. These older generation artists are represented in the exhibition in the work of painter Zhou Changjiang, and a retrospective of the film works of Zhang Peili. Most of the works in the exhibition were made in the past five years and reflect a new confidence on the part of Chinese artists. No longer content with imitating Western practice, they are now looking to their own remarkable artistic heritage for both subject matter and media. This is reflected in the ink paintings of He Saibang and Cai Guangbin, both of whom are attempting to take this ancient medium and make it relevant to a contemporary society, with some startling results.

Almost all of the work is new to Irish audiences, with the exception of Yang Fudong, who had a successful exhibition at the Douglas Hyde Gallery in 2003 and has also been short-listed for the Guggenheim's Hugo Boss Prize this year. Yang Fudong is represented in this exhibition with a large-scale film installation of his work Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest from 2003. The work is based on a Chinese third-century story describing a group who during the change from the Wei to Jin dynasties, fled to the countryside to escape political upheaval. There, in a bamboo forest, they paused and engaged in ch'ing-t'an, the Taoist ideal of "pure conversation". Following a period of quiet and introspection, they return to the city where their new ideas bring enlightenment to the troubled society.

The title of the show, invoking the dragon - China's most revered talisman - is designed to embody both the search for identity, in a nation of 1.3 billion people, and the imaginative character of art itself.

This exhibition forms part of the programme for a Chinese Festival of Arts and Culture taking place around the country this autumn which itself is part of a larger, more ambitious cultural exchange between Ireland and China. In addition to the exchange of art exhibitions, the China Ireland Cultural Exchange Programme also initiated a series of artists' residencies in both countries. Earlier this year three Irish artists - John Behan, Amanda Coogan and Caroline McCarthy - spent several weeks in China learning about and experiencing Chinese life and culture. In October, IMMA in turn will welcome two painters from Beijing - Li Xiaoke and Yan Zhenduo - as part of the Museum's Artists' Work Programme.

Yang Fudong
Seven Intellectuals in Bamboo Forest (2003)

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