Passage to History. China’s 20 years at the Venice Biennale.


2013 marks the twentieth anniversary of Chinese participation in the International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia. To homage this event, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chengdu (MoCA Chengdu) has organised the exhibition “Passage to History: 20 Years of La Biennale di Venezia and Chinese Contemporary Art”, co-curated by Italian art critic and curator Achille Bonito Oliva and Chinese art historian and curator Lu Peng. The concerted efforts of the two curators bring together an understanding of the Biennale’s historical engagement with China and its artists’ process of negotiating an international identity through cultural exchange with the West.


Giving an overview of Chinese contemporary artistic production and its participation in the Venice Biennale, the exhibition presents the works of 19 established Chinese artists, who all in their career have been part of Chinese events at the Biennale. Furthermore, the show maps the rise of China’s economic and cultural development and the increase in its international influence.


The show mainly focuses on the medium of painting, the individual voices of the artists expressing its development in Chinese contemporary art and its negotiation between western and eastern influences, leading to the exploration and reflection on Chinese and Western cultural exchanges.


The exhibition is divided into two parts: the first, an exhibition of paintings, and the second, a section presenting open archives, video interviews with all the  artists and their impressions on participating to the Venice Biennale, photographs, printed materials and other sort of information and documentation.


“Passage to History”: the theme

Achille Bonito Oliva curated the 45th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia, in 1993, which marked the centenary of the event. That year, the first participation of China in the biennale was titled “Passage to the Orient” and was an overview of what transformations art had undergone in China since 1989.


The title and the exhibition were bringing to the fore questions that were at the core of international debates, such as: what place would China occupy in the international contemporary art world? What is the significance of the word “orient” in the title of the exhibition, and does it represent a post-colonial view of art from the East in a western framework? Was the standard of Chinese contemporary art yet to be determined, as it seemed to still lag behind that of the international (western) art world?


Throughout the interceding twenty years, Chinese contemporary art has proven itself a major contribution to the international art world, with its individual voice and representation in this globalised scene. This year’s exhibition marks the complete “passage” of Chinese art as a fully grown, mature and compelling world of creative force, that not only expresses its cultural individuality in the globalised art world, but also transforms, reviews, influences and inspires it.


Oliva’s essay gives a interesting overview of the history of China’s art from his first curated event of Chinese contemporary art at the Biennale.


The foreword essay to the exhibition by curator Lu Peng gives a really good insight into the twenty years of development and transformations of China’s contemporary art.




The artists in the exhibition are: Chen Xi, Cui Xiuwen, Fang Lijun, Li Qing, Liu Wei, Liu Xiaodong, Mao Xuhui, Sui Jianguo, Wang Guangyi, Wang Jianwei, Xu Bing, Yan Peiming, Ye Yongqing, Yin Zhaoyang, Yue Minjun, Zeng Fanzhi, Zhan Wang, Zhang Peili, Zhang Xiaogang, Zhou Chunya.

All Photographs: “Passage to History”, collateral event of the 55th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia, 2013. Photos: Prof Danilo Ardia.

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