Passage to History: 20 Years of La Biennale di Venezia and Chinese Contemporary Art

Collateral Event at 55th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia

Curators: Lü Peng, Achille Bonito Oliva
Commissioner: Paolo De Grandis
Artists: 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
Organizer: Museum of Contemporary Art, Chengdu
Producer: Institutions of Chinart
Patronised by: Comune di Venezia – Assessorato alle Attività Culturali
Designer: Guo Chenghui
Coordinator: PDG Arte Communications - Director, Carlotta Scarpa; Francesca Romana Greco; Roberto Rosolen
Venue: Arsenale di Venezia, Nappa 89
Websites: -

2013 marks the twentieth anniversary of the participation of Chinese contemporary artists in La Biennale di Venezia; it also marks twenty years of economic, cultural and artistic exchange between China and the West. Since 1993, when Chinese contemporary artists participated in the exhibition “Passage to Orient” as individual artists, there has been sporadic participation from Chinese contemporary artists in La Biennale di Venezia; as we reexamine this chapter in the Biennale's history, we can see how Chinese contemporary artists, each in their own way, have been engaged in the process of negotiating an international identity through cultural exchange with the West. There is also an awareness from the Western world of the unique and different ways in which Chinese artist have responded to conditions of cultural dialogue with the West. At the same time, as we finely comb through the documents of this exhibition, the rise of China's economy and the increase in its international influence can be seen, mapped out over 20 years. Through this time period there is a recorded change in accepted attitudes toward Chinese culture and its international identity in the Western world, as well as toward China's contribution to contemporary art, particularly in painting. The theme of exhibition, passage to history, derives from these.
Actually, we can clearly see that it was the combined efforts of Chinese contemporary artists and critics at home and abroad, as well as those Western curators with a passion for art that made this precious period of Chinese contemporary art history possible.
It is to make a polygonal mirror taking Venice Biennale as a central topic for researching, through which to observe the broader art world because we can inevitably encounter everything on the Biennale: art, artists, visitors, curators and art institutions as well as cultural policy, trade market range, work scope, special occasions, tourism and urban tag. The “Historic Route” Exhibition aims to research, from different angles of the East and the West, the historical elements and cultural contexts of Chinese contemporary art's participation in the globalization process and also let visitors to clearly understand the connecting background and historical significance between the Venice Biennale and Chinese contemporary art and to give a clear positioning of the past 20 years Chinese contemporary art in the history of world art.
The Venice Biennale is the large-scale international exhibition that Chinese contemporary art faces for the first time. Its impact on Chinese contemporary art is not just an international identity or the international arena for Chinese contemporary artists, the more important is that it has given the perspective of reflection and painted the image of Chinese contemporary art. Early Chinese contemporary artists' participation in exhibition was not that smooth as imagined, which is full of hardships. Realistically speaking, in the eyes of the Chinese artists at the time of the early 1990s, there were not particularly complete differences between China and West but they considered the arts as a whole in the world. Therefore, no matter influencing or be influenced, it is the "out of the center "cultural policy for art history. This center is not only the center of the West, but also to get rid of the narrative of Orientalism in order to look for a space based on a common cultural basis. Such exploration is the most pertinent action in the phenomenon of cultural capital globalization.
Two major components make up this collateral event: the first, a showing of easel painted works; the second will be an archive presentation. Each part of the exhibition serves to illustrate the other, and each is a confirmation of the other one. By means of their individual voices, artists have communicated elements of Chinese and Western cultures in translation through the medium of painting. Meanwhile, by combing history with the detailed historical documents in the second part of the exhibition, there is an exploration of and reflection upon Chinese and Western cultural exchanges.
Invited to co-curate are Italian art critic and curator Achille Bonito Oliva, together with Chinese art historian Lü Peng, who will offer their historical perspectives on this exhibition and its cultural subjects. Thanks to the former's participation, we may gain a clearer understanding of and affinity for the Chinese contemporary art exhibition at La Biennale di Venezia, its background and historical significance. As for the participation of the latter, he has for twenty years been in the position of clarifying contemporary art in China for international audiences.

© Sergio Martucci