Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In

It's all Chinese

December 8, 2007 - 8:26am -- Carol Diehl
Su Xinping (Stux)

This week, pounding the sidewalks of Chelsea, it became more and more evident that the Chinese takeover of the art world is complete. First stop was the group show at the vast Arario Gallery (521 West 21st with three other branches are in Korea and Beijing) followed by another across the street at Stux. While there’s no means of presentation here that’s particularly new—the Asians are riffing on Western contemporary art in a big way—it’s oddly refreshing. They bring, however, more than just exotica to the mix. While Westerners appreciate traditional Asian painting and sculpture for its beauty, at the same time it's opaque, a foreign language. By adopting Western tropes, these younger Asian artists are working with a visual code we understand, and one that allows their personal sensibilities to shine through. In writing classes I taught in the graduate program at SVA, where many of the students are Asian, I made a practice of encouraging foreign students to forget about using correct grammar and simply concentrate on expressing their thoughts and feelings. The results were charming and illuminating—and because of their heartfelt nature—surprisingly literary. The students told me they could express personal insights and observations in English that would be unimaginable within the confines and traditions of their native languages.

However the same Warholian and Duchampian ideas that the Asians find so liberating have been recycling in the West now for more than thirty years, to the point that they have become mechanical and rote. Pushed in art school to do work that looks “relevant,” students imitate what they see in galleries, which is work generated by artists who were imitating what they saw in galleries ten years before, which is work those artists saw in galleries ten years before that, so by now it’s all so denatured and watered down that it looks like the souvenir shop version of the original impulse.

Perhaps its time for us to take up brush painting.

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