The Prophecy: Split Realities and Changing Measurements in Post-1989 China
Lecture by Carol Yinghua Lu

  • The Prophecy: Split Realities and Changing Measurements in Post-1989 China
    Award-giving ceremony at the opening of the First 1990s' Biennial Art Fair (The Oil Painting Section) in Guangzhou, 1992. Courtesy Carol Yinghua Lu

In China, the events of 1989 severely dampened the intellectual and idealistic spirit of the 1980s.

The beginning of the 1990s heralded the arrival of a gradual construct of contemporary art in China. This vision of contemporary art was one strongly influenced by the idea of an art system and the prospect of creating an art industry that could enable and support artistic practices without dependence on state-provided resources and infrastructure. The disillusion of the 1989 propelled an aspiration for autonomy, which was made possible at this moment with the further implementation of market economy and the gradual rise of an art system for contemporary art practices that took place both within and outside of art academies and state institutions.

In the 1990s, the marketization of art was taken up by art practitioners both in and outside of the state-supported structure, as a proposal and a plan for action, with a conviction of gaining more autonomy and social legitimacy for contemporary artists. This talk will examine the impact of the market economy on the imaginary and practice of contemporary art in China in the 1990s, regarding both artistic practices and the efforts of art critics and curators to shape a new infrastructure and order for art. It will argue that this vision for art was embedded in the market discourse and the discourse of modernization, both part of the state ideology of this period. It underestimated the power of the state structure and instead of offering an outlet for independent art practice, the market was further implicated in the political agenda of the state. As the 1990s continued, the market and the state become more and more tightly connected with each other, instead of working in opposite directions. As those involved would soon realize both the separation of the market from the state and that of politics from art were simply long-lasting myths.

Carol Yinghua Lu

is an art critic and curator. She is a PhD candidate in art history at the University of Melbourne. She is a contributing editor at Frieze and is on the advisory board of The Exhibitionist. Lu was on the jury for the Golden Lion Award at the 2011 Venice Biennale. She also served as co-artistic director of the 2012 Gwangju Biennale and co-curator of the 7th Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale in 2012. From 2012 to 2015, she was the artistic director and chief curator of OCAT Shenzhen. Lu was the first visiting fellow in the Asia-Pacific Fellowship program at the Tate Research Centre in 2013.

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