While taking a brief vacation from the cold this past week (in Panama of all places; as an aside, the rapid and apparently unconstrained development of Panama City since 2003 is a phenomenon worth looking at) I finally had the opportunity to plow through Martin Jacques’s When China Rules The World (Penguin 2009), which I found to be an excellent counter-consensus account of how China’s rise will be anything but a process of ‘westernization’.
Not that I have done all that much reading on the topic, but it seems to me that Jacques offers a thoroughgoing introduction to the many promises and problems (for the globe, not just the West) of China’s rise. But more than this, the importance of Jacques book, for me at least, was to have disabused me of my habit of utter skepticism with which I met nearly all (positive) accounts of anything having to do with ‘Chinese Contemporary Art’. The ‘emerging market’ chorus and so many artists’ tendency towards the worst ethno-kitsch, combined with the extensive accounts of ‘pay-to-play’ networks of curators, critics, galleries and museums, simply put me off. My major criticism being that it seemed impossible for anyone ‘in the West’ to get a clear or honest assessment of Chinese art from Chinese critics and curators. Yes, books by English-language critics (Richard Vine’s fine recent survey among them) have been appearing. But without access to the thinking that was going on within the networks of Chinese art (and networks purged of monetary grease), I simply felt that its landscape would necessarily remain obscure. My reaction, unenviable and small-minded, was to put my head in the sand and simply hope that this too would pass, chalked up as a mere symptom of globalization. As I said, small-minded.
The rise of Chinese contemporary art is surely a function, not a symptom, of globalization; and it’s here to stay. Jacques’s book attuned me to this (and it has perhaps only twenty words on art, contemporary or otherwise). All of which is to say that, post-Jacques’s book, I was able to read with some optimism this report on the announcement of Wang Chunchen of the Museum of the Central Academy of Fine Arts as the most recent (and only second) winner of the Chinese Contemporary Art Award prize in criticism–and this for a work entitled ‘Art Intervenes in Society - A New Artistic Relationship’. I have not read Wang’s piece, and would be interested to hear from anyone who has; but it seems to me more generally that this prize in criticism is exactly the kind of thing we need. The discourse of Chinese contemporary art needs to be shaped from a perspective internal to its own culture. The CCAA prize promises to do just that. And now that I’ve got my head out of my as…I mean, out of the sand, I’ll be looking for more such platforms (and their beneficiaries).