Reflections on Chinese Contemporary Art: Ai Weiwei, Cao Fei, and Cai Guo-Qiang

Artists Ai Weiwei, Cao Fei, and Cai Guo-Qiang.

From left: Artists Ai Weiwei, Cao Fei, and Cai Guo-Qiang.

For the occasion of Armory Focus: China at The Armory Show 2014 in New York City, Art21 produced four original films featuring Philip Tinari, director of The Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing and curator of Armory Focus: China. In the films, Tinari reflects upon the current state of contemporary art in China, as highlighted through the work of four Chinese artists: Ai Weiwei, Cao Fei, Cai Guo-Qiang, and Xu Zhen, the commissioned artist for The Armory Show 2014. All four films will be screened to both fair-going and online audiences. Featured here are the first three films from the series.

When discussing each of the three artists previously featured by Art21—Ai Weiwei, Cao Fei, and Cai Guo-Qiang—Tinari identifies a common interest in the cultural identity of China and the Chinese population, along with its relationships both locally and globally.

In Ai, Tinari notes a fascination with the effect of China’s productivity upon the lives of individuals, as demonstrated through the artist’s frequent employment of local artisans for the creation of his works. Tinari also identifies Western artists Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol as key influences for Ai’s work as an artist.

Watch additional Art21 videos featuring Ai Weiwei

In Cao, Tinari sees “an example of how one can be a Chinese artist working in a global context.” Tinari cities the lengths of time that Cao spent with local factory workers—from factories that produce goods for global consumption—as a representation of the artist’s interest of “engaging with the wider world on her terms.”

Watch additional Art21 videos featuring Cao Fei

Of Cai, Tinari mentions the artist’s signature work with gunpowder, describing the material as something that “speaks to the ingenuity of the Chinese people.” Tinari explores the on-going influence of the artist’s travels to—and current residence in—the West, and its relationship to his own Chinese identity.

Watch additional Art21 videos featuring Cai Guo-Qiang

The above videos are meant to serve as companion pieces to each artist’s original appearance in Art21’s Art in the Twenty-First Century series. These videos, in addition to additional videos from Art21’s Exclusive and Artist to Artist series, can be viewed from the artists’ sections on Art21.org.

Philip Tinari first partnered with Art21 in 2009, interviewing Cao Fei in Beijing for Season 5 (2009) of the Art in the Twenty-First Century series. Tinari would again partner with Art21 to interview artist Ai Weiwei in Beijing for Season 6 (2012).

Armory Focus is a specially curated section of The Armory Show that highlights the artistic landscape of a chosen geographic region. For The Armory Show 2014, Tinari curated Armory Focus: China, shining new light on the country’s contemporary cultural practice. Armory Focus: China is on view at The Armory Show in New York from March 6–9, 2014.

VIDEO CREDITS | Producer: Eve Moros Ortega. Interview: Eve Moros Ortega. Camera: Rafael Salazar. Sound: Ava Wiland. Editor: Morgan Riles. Artwork Courtesy: Ai Weiwei, Cao Fei, and Cai Guo-Qiang. Archival Images Courtesy: Ai Weiwei and AW Asia. Thanks: Philip Tinari, The Armory Show, Christopher Mao, John Tancock, Chambers Fine Art, Taliesin Thomas, Larry Warsh, and Lombard Freid Gallery. Theme Music: Peter Foley. © Art21, Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.

Contributor
Jonathan Munar is the Director of Digital Media and Strategy at ART21, overseeing the organization's overall digital, Web, and social media presences. He edits and contributes to the Magazine's "Art 2.1" column.
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