Feeling somewhat slow on the uptake, having only now noticed that World Art 世界艺术 had already done a “Special Edition of Chinese Abstract Art” in 2008. World Art, edited by Xu Liang 徐亮, brought in He Guiyan 何桂彦 as guest curator, and the issue is spectacular assemblage of recent abstract expressionist work by Chinese artists. There are 43 artists profiled, and the issue, at 232 handsome pages, provides an indepth view of the state of (this) art in China. Also profitably, the issue is divided thematically, with the following categories: Trace to the source 溯源， Gaze 凝视, Retrospect 回顾, Discussion 探讨, Cases 个案, Dialogue 对话, Master 名家, and Prospect 展望 . The work concludes with a chronology.
The sense one gets looking through such an assemblage of abstract art is one of freedom, letting ourselves go across the pages of abstract expression (nearly entirely painting) in contemporary China. We are drawn in because we are not distracted by form, rebuffed by representation. Yet in this process are we closer or farther away from “Chinese reality,” the site of accelerated change? Is it possible to see into Chineseness if what we see is in fact unidentifiable as such?
In any event and in combination with LEAP 12 (December, 2011), the contemporary critical attention to the question of non-representational art in China has been significant. The LEAP exploration is on the whole more contemporary than the World Art, which includes more scholarly attention to historical development of abstraction in Chinese visual art, as well as targeted regional focus (Shanghai, Taipei, etc). The problem for both, nonetheless (and if one is inclined to think in terms of “problems”) lies in eternal questions of space and time, the “where” of a Chinese abstract art, and the when, on the “heels” of Other abstract expressions. As one of the LEAP author avers: ”Perhaps, ten or twenty years from now, we will see the abstractionism of China today as something akin to American Abstract Expressionism.” (THE BAMBOO CURTAIN: THREE AESTHETIC CONCEPTUALIZATIONS OF ABSTRACT ART /TEXT: PO HUNG / TRANSLATION: DANIEL NIEH) But, is this possible?
I think it is. But even to say so doesn’t produce much. What I think the abstract conversation produces is a context wherein we push further with the very language of description of art phenomena in Chinese context.