A Visual Mix and Social Jigsaw——A Survey of Contemporary Art Clusters in Guangdong
Source:Artintetrn.net Author:HU Bin Date: 2013-04-28 Size:
In recent years, the development of contemporary art clusters and self-assembly organizations in China has become increasingly noticeable, which also given rise to many problems for discussion. The reasons for the appearance of such clusters and organizations are various,

In recent years, the development of contemporary art clusters and self-assembly organizations in China has become increasingly noticeable, which also given rise to many problems for discussion. The reasons for the appearance of such clusters and organizations are various, such as economic condition, environment, educational background. Many of them are founded spontaneously, in response to the current art system. In return, their rise has more or less changed the ecology of this system and causes a series of responses.
When talking about the ecology of contemporary art in Guangdong, we know that civilian activities and collection of contemporary art in Guangdong are not as popular as in Beijing and Shanghai. There are just a small number of contemporary art institutions, working in their own way. It is rare that they have ever held any sought-after events or taken any sensation-seeking action. The performance of some naturally formed community of artists fails to serve as a model. To put it in another way, this means contemporary art in Guangdong has not been systematically organized yet. Most artistic creation and spacial development are based on self-awareness and individual preference, thus they are less driven by the eager anxiety to pursuit profit in art production.
Thankfully, influenced by the external environment, colleges have adopted a more open attitude towards contemporary art by setting corresponding teaching syllabus and courses. As for the art institutions, besides public art galleries which function as important display platform, civilian art institutions’ participation in contemporary art, though unstable, is on the whole becoming more and more active. In addition, contemporary art community has been formed in some areas, with a growing number of activities. At the same time, contemporary artists in Guangdong gain more opportunities to go abroad for exchange programs. Such multidimensional development, especially the substantial development of civilian art, has certainly provided favorable environment for the development of Guangdong contemporary art.
But academic research into contemporary art ecology in Guangdong, especially into the creation of young artists, is apparently far from enough. The Art Exhibition by Guangdong Youth Generation, which had been held for several years on end in Guangdong, along with a series of exhibitions of contemporary local art ecology, is suspended. Some regional collective art exhibitions were held by Guangdong Artists Association, some universities and some art galleries, but these exhibitions are held randomly without continuity and academic plan, resulting in their weak influence on the whole area.
On the basis of the above development trend, 21 Space Art Museum has attempted an in-depth research into the contemporary art clusters in Guangdong. After the research, we have organized a major exhibition that not only presents the whole picture of the art clusters, but also provides some case study as the key to highlight some emerging powers. Related archives will be published for(as) a vivid description of Guangdong contemporary art.
We began our research from Guangzhou, visiting places such as the University Town, Xiaozhou Village, Loft345, Oversea Garden, 3rd Line, Wuxianqiao Community. Strictly speaking, the University Town is not a cluster, but since its foundation as a large university congregation far away from the downtown, a kind of new human ecology has emerged. The mentality and perception of art of some young teachers who live in such a remote place have changed as time went by. Some students also begin to communicate and organize activities in a new mode in such a place far from the madding crowd. What is more interesting is the emerging form of social life. Because of the arrival of a large number of college students, industrial structure has changed in nearby villages, with catering service, renting service, training service and groceries prevailing. As some young artists and some students majoring in art move into Nanting Village and Xiaozhou Village and set up studios and small civilian art spaces there, the two villages have become the art community around the University Town. What is more, Xiao Zhou Art Festival of the Youth, a grassroots art festival organized by graduates from fine art colleges, has been held in Xiaozhou Village to show the free organization of young artists there. It has been extremely popular in a certain period and its influence has reached every conner of the village.
In the vicinity of the old campus of Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, there has long existed thoughts different from that of college education. Art communities such as Libreria Borges and Loft345 can be found there. Functions of Libreria Borges include publication, exhibition, communication, seminars organization and document management. It has built its brand by holding experimental exhibitions and lectures, connecting artists and also serving as exhibition site. While Loft345 is a relatively loose-organized place for teachers and students in Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts to communicate, entertain and also exhibit their works. Because of the convenience of communication after class, transportation and lower rent, many teachers and students set up their studios in Loft345 and Oversea Garden. The formation of 3rd Line, another cluster founded by teachers and students in Academy of Fine Arts, was quite accidental. Initially, several teachers set up their office in property at the south end of subway Line3. Thanks to its low rent and wide space, some other young artists, who kept intimate connection with them, were also attracted there. Then, a small community gradually came into being. They have held several exhibitions as a group by now.
In about 2002, 3rd Line, a painters’ community composed of some teachers from South China Normal University, Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, Guangdong Institute of Education, was founded. Later its influence was far-reaching as its members went to different places. Their studio were succeeded by some young artists who were directly influenced by them. They set up Wuxianqiao Art Studio to distribute information about their creation and activities to the public.
For me, I am quite familiar with Guangzhou as I live here. When talking about the whole province of Guangdong, Shenzhen is a city that can not be ignored. It has spare no effort to hold many regular major exhibitions, where there are quite a number of art galleries and various kinds of art institutions. It is rather influential at home and abroad, but we know little about the local artists and our preparation for our survey is not enough. Following the recommendation of some curators, we called on some artists in Bu Space, T6 Art Shop and Guanlan, visiting their studios and discussing with them about the local art ecology in Shenzhen. In the survey we found that in such a city famous for its economic development, the local young artists are more marginalized than those in Guangzhou. Their creation and activities have got nothing to do with many of the major art exhibitions and the building of art institutions. Of cause,this survey is only a beginning. More accurate judgment can be made only after we have deeper communication with curators, critics and artists who are more familiar with the local art ecology.
The above introduction about contemporary art ecology in Guangdong mainly focuses on two big cities, namely Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Besides, we know that in Yangjiang, a remote city, there is an active group led by Zhen Guogu. The rest part of Guangdong seems to be the dead zone of contemporary art. Actually in recent years, contemporary art activities and space have begun to emerge in Shunde and Dongguan. Some artists and curators from Guangzhou and Shunde ever held a contemporary art exhibition in an old plant along the Desheng River in Shunde. In the site where the exhibition was held, a group of artists saved the old plant which was about to be demolished in the name of art. They not only have influenced the regional development planning, but also facilitated the development of contemporary art in Desheng. In Guancheng District, Dongguan, 21 Space Art Museum is about to open to the public. Taking regional art development and cultural innovation as its major targets of research and presentation, it will also probe into their value and meaning in a global perspective.
In general, these art clusters came into being out of the existing art tradition, but their congregation shows the diversification and flexibility of art. They survive among various pressure and existing powers. Actually, these clusters, in return, have more or less changed the current art scenario. Higher education, art galleries, non-profit institutions and the commercial system will make some response to these art clusters. What is worth mentioning is that there are many limitations in the survey. Firstly, due to our limited knowledge and resources, we failed to visit many places. Secondly, 21 Space Art Museum mainly focuses on the academic research of Chinese contemporary oil painting, leading to our focus on oil painting during this survey, thus it is hard to make a comprehensive presentation of all the art clusters. Nonetheless, most artists in many clusters are oil painters. Despite all the limitations of the survey, we do have a better idea about the underlying thoughts of artists for their works and the specific problems they are facing, such as artistic trend, market, academic platform, pressure to survive and social evolution. Contemporary art clusters in Guangdong, like others around the country, are also influenced by the increasing rent, the demolishment of communities, and the poor living condition. As a result, art clusters are often in an unorganized state.
On the basis of the cluster survey, we curated a group exhibition entitled Visual Mix Guangdong Contemporary Art Community, displaying the characteristics of young artists’ creation. From the perspective of linguistic schema, their creation is a combination of extremely various elements and shows the integration of various visual effects, thoughts and background knowledge. While from the constitution of art clusters, the members of these clusters come from different fields and have different knowledge background. At the same time, their art creation is closely related with their life. Visual creation is only part of their work. Meanwhile, they are building their own individual system. We can see that some artists are breaking the traditional boundaries of art and exploring a broader field of knowledge and life experience. Artists, who live like urban nomads, gather and depart freely in different cities, trying their best to create art works in a frantic society. Through this exhibition, we hope people can know better about the artists and the clusters scenario they are in. Curators, managers and critics of different regions will be invited to the opening ceremony of the exhibition and a seminar on the ecology of Chinese contemporary art clusters for a comprehensive perception of this subject.
It is also one of the events of Figurative China that 21 Space Art Museum is about to hold. Western Realism and figurative have been introduced to China and integrated here for a long time, leading to diverse motifs, space, perspectives, textures and structures. Figurative China is, of cause, a kind of specific expression of contemporary Chinese art, but what is more important is that it tries to reveal the general problems of society, thoughts and culture. Chinese contemporary art should be able to reflect current problems in China effectively. We live in a time when unbelievable changes have taken place. The shocking transformation of landscape, lifestyle and thoughts is not only an art experiment, but also a topic for research on social psychology and realistic problems, which has received extensive attention. Our survey and presentation of art clusters are certainly part of the project. We plan to make it a regular event and hope the enriching survey results can contribute to the archives of contemporary regional culture and art research.
Some people may wonder why this survey and exhibition aims at young artists again. On the one hand, most of the members of art clusters are young. On the other hand, we find that many young artists do not have proper platform and their creation style is not fixed yet, opening to more possibilities. We enjoy following them, observing and tracking their progress. We know that in recent years, young artists like to flock together for collective exhibitions. Both commercial institutions and non-profit art galleries go all out to hold group exhibitions for young artists who are elected by nomination or mass-election and many other ways. There are many criticisms, some of which are rather sharp, aiming at the operation mechanism of young artists’ exhibition and their creation. It does not mean that we should not pay attention to young artists, but rather it reminds us of the current problems in the operation and presentation mechanism of young artists’ exhibition. We have visited art clusters by ourselves because we want to listen to the voice of the young artists. Of cause, as mentioned above, there must exist many problems in our survey, interpretation and presentation of the theme. We are still in the course of exploration.
Then, may the young researchers, artists and 21 Space Art Museum grow together!

[Editor] Lola Xu