“Shu: Reinventing Books in Contemporary Chinese Art,” which opened on June 25 as part of Asian Sensation, is epic. It’s an extremely insightful cross-section of work produced by some of today’s hottest international artists—names that will be familiar to those who have been following experimental art in China since the early 1980s (that’s Yue Minjun’s “Garbage Dump” pictured at left). The Academy’s installment of “Shu” is especially thought provoking, in that it is contextualized within a larger scope of contemporary art. Although modernity and “Asian-ness” are common denominators amongst all the “Asian Sensation” exhibitions, the curatorial approaches differ significantly.
For instance, Karin Higa, one of the curators of “One Way or Another: Asian American Art Now,” suggests that the only bond between the artists in “One Way or Another,” who live and work across the U.S., is the absence of a definitive signifier, which would identify the artist as “Asian American.” (“‘One Way or Another’ shows that there is no such thing as Asian-American art,” said Higa at the lively, enlightening panel discussion held at the Doris Duke Theatre on June 26—if you weren’t there, you really missed out on an extraordinary talk with artists who matter.)
Conversely, Wu Hung, the curator, of “Shu,” suggests that the identity and practice of these artists is historically rooted and therefore inseparable from their locality. He goes on to say, “By focusing on the relationship between contemporary Chinese art and the book, this exhibition explores an indigenous narrative of contemporary art in a global context, thus offering an explanation for why contemporary Chinese art is both ‘contemporary’ and ‘Chinese.’” (Wu Hung, “Shu: Reinventing Books in Contemporary Chinese Art,” New York: China Institute, 2006, p.21)
Want to hear more from the guru of Chinese art history? Dr. Wu Hung, Harrie A. Vanderstappen Distinguished Service Professor of Art History at the University of Chicago, gives a lecture Thursday, July 3, 7:30pm at the Doris Duke Theatre.