Provocations: Avant-Garde Art in China in the 1980s

4 October 2017

The 1980s was a period of dramatic political, cultural, and economic change in the People’s Republic of China. During the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), socialist ideology penetrated every facet of China’s social and cultural realms. After the Cultural Revolution concluded, the Chinese Communist Party shifted towards a policy of “opening and reform.” China’s cultural authorities loosened their control over the artistic sphere, ushering in a period of discussion, debate, and artistic experimentation. For thirty years, official cultural policy had demanded that artistic production “serve the masses” and “serve politics.” In the liberal atmosphere of the mid-1980s, a new generation of path-breaking artists emerged across China, forming “avant-garde” groups collectively known as the ’85 New Wave movement. Concerned with the future of China’s artistic culture, ’85 New Wave artists critically engaged with Western artistic and philosophical concepts and experimented with artistic form, expanding and diversifying the artistic field. Supported by a coterie of art critics, theorists, and curators, these avant-garde artists held provocative exhibitions and published iconoclastic manifestoes. In 1989, the government’s violent crackdown on student protestors brought a decisive end to this period of avant-garde exploration, extinguishing the optimistic spirit of avant-gardism that characterised the 1980s.

This exhibition introduces materials relating to China’s avant-garde held in University of Sydney library collections, including the East Asian Collection and the Schaeffer Fine Arts Library. Focusing on important Chinese fine art periodicals donated to the University of Sydney by Professor John Clark, this exhibition explores the artworks, exhibitions, and ideas that animated the Chinese art world of the 1980s. Supplementing these primary sources with important art historical texts, this exhibition seeks to demonstrate how materials in University of Sydney library collections can be used to explore this dynamic period of art history.

Event details



Provocations: Avant-Garde Art in China in the 1980s

Where

Fisher Library

Exhibition Space, level 2 

When

4 October 2017


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