The art of China has been on the tips of everyone's tongues since Ai Weiwei stole the thunder from a bourgeoning national museums growth in the Middle East by painting a million sunflower seeds, placing them in Tate Modern's Turbine Hall and then having the gall to be arrested as a dissident by his own government. I'm being facetious, of course, but interest in art from the Oriental East has been paramount in the twenty-first century and almost all the major museums have exhibited collected works by artists from the region. The latest, which opens this Friday, is the Hayward Gallery, who present Art of Change: New Directions from China. This is a display of performance and installation, in what the museum call the first major exhibition of its kind.
It's very easy to talk of 'new directions' when the overwhelming majority would likely not heard of the exhibiting artists, despite their individual profiles in their home country. Equally, it is easier to select the best and highest profile of these artists. The change that is referenced in the title of this show is the development in the career of each exhibiting artist. The Hayward Gallery have selected work by eight artists, dating from the 1980s to the present day. The exhibition then traces the changes in each artist's work, juxtaposing early pieces with recent works and commissions.
Very broadly, Chinese artists have been very savvy in utilising the opportunities afforded them with an increased international awareness of their work. An art market that has been bouyed by the emergence of Chinese painting, which merges ancient technique with very modern-day concerns, has played an important part in raising the profile of Chinese art. Performance and installation is generally thought to be 'art with a message', and the artists in this exhibition certainly have something to say about the state of China over the past thirty years. It's an interesting concept made manifest, reflections of the macro through the eyes of a single artist.
Art of Change: New Directions from China opens at the Hayward Gallery this Friday, 07 September, until 09 December.