The explosion of contemporary Chinese art on the global market place since about 2000 has kept pace, in fits, starts, and more fits and starts, with China’s development as circulable commodity in digital media, drawing readers of all kinds to subjects of every variety. Or almost every variety.
But the result of such commodification of Chinese “subjects” has also brought circulation of art information of relatively high order into the “hands” (really, onto the screens) of people worldwide. LEAP is a fine case in point. From ABOUT:LEAP is the bilingual art magazine of contemporary China. Published six times a year in Chinese and English, it presents a winning mix of contemporary art coverage and cultural commentary from the cutting edge of the Chinese art scene. Its three sections, 上, 中, and 下 (top, middle and bottom) are differently conceived. 上 offers short takes on a wide range of subjects including architecture, exhibition design, and film, as well as a number of standing columns like “Conference Room” which illustrates a recent discussion or panel, “Shop Talk” which asks an artist very direct questions about the more concrete elements of their practice, “My Miles” which interviews an art-world character about their travels and “Videos You Didn’t Finish Watching” which attempts to represent a time-based work onto a two-page spread. 中 begins with a cover package of stories on a key topic (the first four issues have covered: the decade in review, spaces of production, the China-Africa connection, and China’s new “Art Youth” generation) alongside artist profiles, cultural features, an artist portfolio, and a fashion shoot. 下, neutral and authoritative, contains reviews of recent exhibitions in and beyond China by noted critics. Edited in Beijing, printed in Guangzhou, and governmentally supported by the Anhui Federation of Literary and Arts Circles, LEAP is published by the Modern Media Group, China’s leading producer of lifestyle and fashion magazines with titles including Modern Weekly, The Outlook Magazine, and Life. Part specialist journal, part handbook of transnational style, it is the voice of the new Chinese art scene.
The most recent issue concerns abstraction, which is a topic I’ve been working on anyway recently. As the opening to the issue makes clear, the debate on this subject began in earnest in the 1980s, with Wu Guanzhong’s 吴冠中 “On formal beauty of painting” 绘画的形式美 published in Meishu 美术 in 1979, and even more explicitly in 关于抽象美, in which he observed:we must inherit and develop the beauty of abstraction, which should be the target of scientific rsearch in the plastic arts, because grasping the laws governing the abstraction and forms of beauty plays a major role in all the plastic arts, regardless of whether they are realist or romantic, or whether they entail brush-work that can be characterized either as 工笔 or 写意。
（in Lv Peng, A HIstory of Art in 20th Century CHina, 764)
The new issue concerns what’s happened since rom a variety of perspectives. In fact, Po Hung’s article gives a review of major exhibitions, and the particular perspectives they ential:Today, any attempt at a conceptual description of Chinese abstract art in the first decade of the twenty-first century cannot avoid taking four exhibitions as symbolic events in the establishment of this cultural landscape. They are: in 2003, the “Chinese Maximalism” exhibition curated by the critic Gao Minglu; the critic Li Xianting’s “Prayer Beads and Brush Strokes” exhibition of the same year; Gao’s “Yi Pai—Century Thinking” exhibition in 2009; and “The Great Celestial Abstraction”exhibition of 2010, which was curated by the Italian critic and curator Achille Bonito Oliva. The symbolism of these exhibitions, as the products of three different aesthetic theories, lies in their grand conception of abstract art on both theoretical and practical levels. If all of the abstract art in the 1980s and 90s was created within the logic of Western art history or the framework of domestic “regionalization/nationalization”— an exploration of the forms, components and materials of art in modernity—then the aforementioned exhibitions were the first indications of a self-conscious rethinking of the language of art as a philosophical question. They thus made it possible for the abstract art of the day to enter the realm of contemporary art. Likewise, after 2003, more and more voices anticipated an imminent resurgence in China’s long-suppressed abstract art field. Oliva’s 2010 exhibition marked a high tide of this sentiment, which is hard to see as separate from the common appeal of these four events.
My own foray into the topic has revolved around modernist poetry (twin to modernist art), going back well before the 1980s (more on this at some point). More recently, a long chat with contemporary artist 关晶晶, a current focus.