In the March/April ’09 ArtAsiaPacific, Don J. Cohn reviews three recent books:
… Melissa Chiu, museum director at Asia Society in New York, and the author/editor of several catalogs for exhibitions of Chinese contemporary art (herein Chicona, AAP’s, not Chiu’s, neologism), has written a brief, intimidatingly titled book that offers an elementary “paint by the numbers” introduction … According to Chiu’s Chinese Contemporary Art: 7 Things You Should Know, the 7 things you should know are: 1. Chicona began decades ago; 2. Chicona “is more diverse than you might think”; 3. Museums and galleries in China and abroad have promoted Chicona since the 1990s; Government censorship influences Chinese artists; 5. The Chinese artist diaspora has returned home; 6. Chicona museums in China are on the rise; 7. The world is collecting Chicona. And here, courtesy of ArtAsiaPacific, are 7 things you don’t want to know about Chicona: 1. Much Chicona is overpriced by any standards; 2. Chinese culture tolerates emulation, appropriation and imitation in the arts to a degree unacceptable in the West; 3. It is unacknowledged that most Chicona is indebted to 20th-century Western art (Duchamp, Kaprow, Cage, Paik, Acconci, Beuys, Nauman); 4. Some major Chinese artists are burnt out and copy themselves to meet market demand; 5. Chicona (by artists Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, Zhu Yu, Liu Jin) incorporating human fetal corpses and cruelty to animals does not demonstrate freedom of expression in China but rather a barbaric and unscrupulous legal system; 6. China’s arts infrastructure remains immature, arbitrary, bureaucratic, venal; 7. Much of Chicona is 21st-century chinoiserie, valued by buyer and seller alike as an “exotic” Asian culture imitating a “higher” Western civilization. These critical issues, skirted entirely in 7 Things and highly diluted somewhere in the prolixity of [Karen Smith’s] Nine Lives, are discussed in Richard Vine’s New China, New Art, a superb, controlled, survey of a vast, writhing subject … the finest introduction to Chinese avant-garde art since the 1970s.