Politically charged Chinese art show opens in Hong Kong
Photos and video based on Tiananmen square massacre at publicly funded M+ museum show complete censorship is some way off
Four Decades of Chinese Contemporary Art is the first major exhibition at M+, the most important publicly funded institution being built in the Chinese territory.
M+, a new visual arts museum which extends to 60,000 sq metres and will not fully open until 2019, has been hit by delays and controversy about its HK$5bn (£450m) cost.
The show is a chronological presentation of some of the most innovative works produced in China from the years of Maoism up to the present, and does not skirt around some of the more politically sensitive works.
The exhibition is opening before the museum itself is finished in order to show donors that their money has been invested despite the delays.
There is no other city in China where this kind of art can be shown
Pi Li, Chinese art curator at M+
Chairman Mao’s rounded figure features in several of the 80 works on show, including in irreverent works such as Wang Guangyi’s Mao Zedong: Red Grid No. 2 and Shi Xinning’s Duchamp Retrospective Exhibition in China, where Mao is portrayed staring at Duchamp’s urinal.
Lars Nittve, the former M+ museum art curator, said at the opening: “It is up to Hong Kong to choose how free it wants to be. If there is a message to this exhibition, this has to be it.”
Pi Li, the Chinese art curator at M+ and the main force behind the show, said: “There is no other city in China where this kind of art can be shown. Chinese art is eminently political. From Confucius onwards, the artist has been required to have a public role. And socialist realism, with all its differences, basically stressed this concept even more.”
A large work by Ai Weiwei, Still Life 1995-2000, is nestled in a side-corridor, accessed by walking past one of the most poignant works to have come out of the 1989 experience: New Beijing by Wang Xingwei.
Here, a famous image of the crackdown showing Beijing residents carrying two bullet-sprayed bodies on a bicycle cart is rendered as a surrealist oil painting, with two huge penguins lying wounded on the cart.
Nittve said: “Penguins are one of the very few animals that have no symbolic meaning in Chinese art. It drives home the absurdity even more. But bear in mind that in China today nobody knows these images, so nobody would be able to understand what this work refers to.”
Hong Kong, on the other hand, has been keeping alive the memory of 1989 with an annual candle-lit vigil in Victoria Park, which continues in spite of the attacks and criticism levelled at it.
“These days, Hong Kong is in such a tense political climate that everything seems black and white,” said Pi Li. “We want to show that it does not need to be. Hong Kong is China’s only international city, the freest city, which makes it the ideal home for the Sigg Collection.”
Uli Sigg, 71, a Swiss national, has collected more than 1,500 works of contemporary Chinese art since the mid-1980s, during his time in Beijing first as a businessman and then as a diplomat. His collection is the largest in the world of its kind.