Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Responding to the world: Contemporary Chinese art, exhibitions, and criticism in the 1990s
by Wang, Peggy, Ph.D., The University of Chicago, 2010, 289; 3432835
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation examines the production and interpretation of contemporary art inside of China during the 1990s as critical responses to new global contexts. Throughout the decade, the rapid ascent of contemporary Chinese art abroad ushered in domestic debates on the politics of representation and the mediated nature of artistic meaning. The purpose of this study is twofold: first, to investigate how new global conditions shifted and elevated the stakes of contemporary art inside of China; and second, to define the strategies and frameworks that artists, curators, and critics adopted to make sense of and make claims for contemporary art within this period of global urgency.

Arranged chronologically from 1989 to 2000, each of my four chapter centers on a specific debate from China’s domestic art discourse. Informed by globalization studies, my dissertation investigates how artists and critics addressed the following topics: establishing international identity, determining artistic value, defining artistic meaning, and demythologizing international relations. In each chapter, I situate case studies of artistic devices and curatorial tactics as critical responses to these problems. By focusing on artwork and artists alongside of concurrent interpretive and evaluative frameworks, this study sheds light on the conflicts constituting the domestic discourse on contemporary art in China.

My findings reveal the 1990s to be a time of disparate understandings of contemporary art. Centered on anxieties about history, nationalism, and cultural authority, case studies of artistic devices and curatorial agendas reveal the following principal strategies: (1) Negotiating temporal simultaneity with geographic specificity in order to articulate a definitive “contemporary Chinese art” and history; (2) Establishing value systems, both monetary and intellectual, to determine standards for evaluating art; (3) Using new mediums and theories to obscure artistic meaning, confound conventional expectations, and negate the legitimacy of an overarching systematic authority; (4) Utilizing the social emphasis on exteriority and superficiality to simultaneously confront and submit oneself to global power dynamics. Each of these strategies communicates a distinct definition of artistic meaning and value. Together, they can be read as a heated dialogue informed by oppositional ideologies, worldviews, and theories and deeply invested with a belief in the possibility for contemporary art to effect intellectual, historical, and epistemological change both at home and abroad.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Wu, Hung
Commitee: English, Darby, Jackson, Matthew J.
School: The University of Chicago
Department: Art History
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: DAI-A 72/02, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Art Criticism, Art history
Keywords: Art, China, Contemporary Chinese art, Contemporary art, Global exhibitions, Nineteen 90s
Publication Number: 3432835
ISBN: 9781124378893
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