China’s rapid economic expansion, is it any wonder its contemporary arts scene
shares the same global ambitions of its manufacturing sector? In fact, multi-millionaire artist Wang Guangyi
is already an industry unto himself. For his part, Liu Gang has high hopes and
heaps of potential. Documentary
filmmaker Mika Mattila follows the two artists and their shows over a three
year period in Chimeras (trailer here), which screens
during both this year’s Hot Docs and San Francisco International Film Festivals.
Guangyi does not have Ai Weiwei’s name recognition outside China, but he sells
like Gerhard Richter to his nouveau riche countrymen. Yet, there are still opportunities for an
unknown like Liu Gang to mount his first one-man show in a prestigious gallery
space. It seems the former art student
is well on his to joining the elite, until his follow-up show is less
surprisingly, both artists wrestle with the baggage of China’s recent history and
issues of globalization. Wang Guangyi
freely mixes Communist iconography with consumerist imagery for an ambiguously
ironic effect. When it comes to
ideology, the senior artist seems deliberately cagey, aside from his explicit
rejects of western aesthetic standards.
Frankly, he remembers the Cultural Revolution fondly, because school was
canceled. Still, it readily admits in retrospect
great atrocities were also committed at the time (which to his credit, Mattila
forthrightly illustrates with dramatic archival stills).
Liu Gang also clearly criticizes commercial impulses in his work, noting with
some regret how China’s gallery system is almost entirely based on the Western
model. Yet, it is when he proposes a series of work inspired by China’s One
Child policy, the once welcoming establishment sort of freaks.
captures this dichotomy reflected in contemporary Chinese culture and commerce solely
through direct observation. There is a
lot of messy reality in the film, as well as some intriguing art. While ostensibly focused on the two artists
and their oeuvre, the ghosts of history haunt the margins of the film in
strange and unexpected ways.
Intelligently assembled by Mattila and his
editor Mikko Sippola, Chimeras (not a
great title, but so be it) opens a fascinating window into an underreported
sector of China. Recommended for China
watchers and those who follow the international art scene, Chimeras screens tonight (4/26), Sunday (4/28), and Thursday (5/2)
up north at Hot Docs and next Saturday (5/4), Sunday (5/5), and the following
Tuesday (5/7) out west at the San Francisco International Film Festival.
Labels: China, Documentary, Hot Docs '13, SFIFF '13, Wang Guangyi