No Art-Chinese Art News, 2009 December Issue, ‘Cover Story’
No Art invited 8 representative cotemporary artists, including Zhu Wei, Zhang Jian, Yang Qian, Zhan Wang, Yin Zhaoyang, Qiu Xiaofei, Li Wei and Xiang Jing, to talk about their viewpoints about realism with a title of Contemporary Collectivity Do Not Give in to Realism.
Zhu Wei: New Realism is but a Commercial Gimmick
It is laughable to talk about this subject, which is just like the Great Leap Forward happened in 1957, when all kinds of satellites could be launched and all kinds of tricks could be played. From the perspective of realism, this style has never disappeared, so how there comes a new one? After the recent economic crisis, there should be ups and downs in economy and produce great impact on relative enterprises and energy sectors, but should not had influenced art so much.
The inspiration provided by this economic crisis to the collectors is, they suddenly find that contemporary art is no longer their only target and investing direction. During the 60 years after the establishment of PRC, several movements, including the Anti-Rightist Struggle, Destroy the Four-Olds and the Cultural Revolution, destroyed almost all the left antiques and old ink and wash paintings preserved by old generations of collectors through all troubles and miseries of the old society; so actually those collectors only realized ‘collecting’ but not ‘preserving’. In the recent three decades after The Reform and Opening Up, new generations of collectors appeared along with the rapid development of economy, who started their collecting of art comparatively late and therefore they only pay attention to contemporary art which they are more familiar with. Objectively speaking, contemporary art has been making a lot of noises in recent years. Imagine such a scenario: if you held a piece of steaming hot pork in your hand, you could be rest assured that a kennel of hungry dogs of varying sizes would come gather around you, amongst which one would keep barking and leaping before you. It is but natural that it would stood out from the pack and catch your attention. Therefore these new collectors believe that there is only contemporary art in art market. After this economic crisis, they suddenly find that contemporary art would not definitely keep value as time passes by; meanwhile they also began to find other arts, like Chinese traditional art, classical oil painting, new realistic oil paintings and others.
I’m not saying that new realistic oil painting is particularly welcomed on the market, but it is a kind of proper choice, for instance, with only 4 thousand yuan, you could not go to fetch back a color TV value 8 thousand yuan from the market. New realistic oil painting has a feature that it looks fairly beautiful; although comparing with contemporary art, it lacks some conceptual quality, yet at least, people could enjoy such paintings hanging at home although it may not keep value. Compared with contemporary art , realistic painting is strong in picturesque nature，and the modeling capability of the realistic artists is far better than the people who are engaged in contemporary art creation. If we invite a model to sit before us and sketch together, I am sure that these contemporary artists would fail and be very angry. Of course, the capability of new realistic artists on realistic imitation is much better if you want to make a comparison. Contemporary art emphasize concepts and depend mainly on the eloquence. Any contemporary artist could make a long talk.
In one word, we cannot tell which is better; they are only different in the division of labor. These days I heard that a China Contemporary Art Academy was established in contemporary art circles, this is also laughable in my mind. No matter it is contemporary art or realistic art, they are no more than different stages of artistic creation in artists’ lifetime, which is similar to eating that it is impossible for anyone to only eat cucumber or never eat peanuts for the whole lifetime. Artistic creation shares the same logic; would it be too inhumane to force some peoples to do only contemporary art? Moreover, these so-called contemporary artists would be old guys who are about 70 years old after only ten years, if a so-called contemporary art institution persist in saying that they are contemporary with these old guys, could these young peoples agree? My suggestion to collectors is: just buy what you like, and never consider their school. The existence of schools and genres in art circles is only to distinguish artists, which is too difficult a problem for viewers to consider. For a collector without training and experiences, it is better not to put all his eggs in one basket, but try and view works of more artists and styles, to appreciate with his own heart rather than being misguided by others.
Zhang Jian: Realistic Art Could Also be Very Contemporary.
I think that the charm of realistic painting lies in its technology. Any industrial product or any substance can reflect its value in its technical content or its texture, with such a language style, I think they are also advanced. From the market point of view, I think the previous auction price of the contemporary art has been so high that it should turn to the realistic painting to become visible on stage. Of course, as far as I am concerned, I prefer to watch contemporary art .However, in fact, there is no essential distinction between contemporary art and realistic art, because the person who paints realistic paintings can also do contemporary art. Although I prefer contemporary art, the contemporary art works including classic element are even better in my heart. In general, I think the realistic art isn’t out of date and many works which is flaunted as contemporary art may not necessarily represent the spirit of the times. The contemporary art is not the only thing which can represent the spirit of the times, so we shouldn’t define them so clearly. I also like some realistic artworks very much; for example, in my opinion, those paintings of Wang Yidong has a good sense of the times. Why? I think from the aesthetic point of view, the red color and the red cotton-padded clothes in his pictures, worn on village girls, are quite plain, and have very high purity; such kind of red has great contemporary aura. In my opinion, this kind of realistic works are contemporary.
Yang Qian: Realism Can No Longer Embody the Time Spirit
Since the establishment of PRC, the form of western oil painting was introduced into China and realistic painting hence launched great impact on Chinese art form. In particular, Russia socialism, namely the realism has also made great impact on Chinese art and artistic education. Especially, we who graduated from academy of fine arts have also been influenced a lot by these factors. Yet in my opinion, it has become a creation method and historical period ended in China in 1960s and 1970s. If we don’t break through it now, it will become a traditional, conservative realistic painting. As for auction market, it is also very natural that realism is sought after, because traditional art is easy to accept. For example, if I paint scenery or a very beautiful girl, they would be easily accepted. In addition, Chinese contemporary art market or collecting behavior are in their initial stage and many new collection conceptions and habits are to be formed in the process of constant expanding and growing up. At least，realistic artworks can still be accepted easily in the market at present. However, contemporary art, most of which are conceptual art, is full of variety and it is also sought after and appreciated by some other collectors. And in the long run, I think contemporary art should have more advantages in the market, because it is directly related with the current life and is much more internationalized. Moreover, its creation methods and expression form have also been seeking for breakthrough in constant innovation and self subversion，which is a reflection of vitality. Realism can't embody the spirit of the era and it can’t be a standard of the future arts development or arts value judgment as well. China has changed so much that both city life and metropolitan life are so colorful where there are countless things to search into and think about. But these realistic painters also draw a village, a kid and some peoples of minority that are not related to what is happening in current China. I can’t understand why they are hot in the market, and I can only say it may be a Chinese-style speculation.
Zhan Wang: Realism is a Ridiculous Discourse
New realistic art is popular in market because there was no realistic painting in ancient China, so common citizens like it. In ancient time, painting was mainly used to replace the function of photograph. Chinese people always love such painting which looks like photo, because it is easy to understand. In fact, there is no realistic or non-realistic problem in contemporary art. When you need realism, you can make your art realistic or photo-realistic as you need. It is all right to be non-realistic or abstract as long as you need. This is not a problem. The realistic and non-realistic problem was aroused after the emergence of western abstract art and only after that when people started to call the above mentioned as realism; while in China, it happened after 1980s, and people were creating realistic paintings before. I think it is relatively outdated now that people still distinguish art forms according to whether it is realism or not. It is too simplistic and dictatorial to distinguish the artists according to whether they stick to realism or not, which is just like deal with issues with ideological standards. As to me, I never paid attention to the problem of whether my art is realistic or not during so many years creation; rather, I attach more importance to the content and contemporary quality of works. I also create in a realistic way and would require my students to grasp realistic skill, which is not opposing contemporary art. Sometimes we adopt realistic form to express our ideas; for example, photo-realism is conceptual in itself. This concept is to represent things objectively, which is a kind of conceptual art. Therefore in my mind, the problem of to be realistic or not realistic in the literary and art circles of our country has long been misguiding peoples and many people even misunderstand realism as a school of art, which is really laughable. Actually there are some realistic factors exist in the artworks of the Top Four Contemporary Artists (Zhang Xiaogang, Fang Lijun, Yue Minjun and Wang Guangyi); Liu Xiaodong’s artworks are also realistic. However, the classical realism which is a kind of imitation of European classical art cannot represent the realism I’m talking here; it could only represent classical realism like the fine brushwork and heavy color style in Chinese traditional painting. Therefore when we talk about Chinese traditional paintings, we rarely distinguish them with fine brushwork or heavy color, because they are only formal concepts; we need to make classification according to ages. Fine brushwork and heavy color existed in all dynasties; they are used at present, in ancient times and would still be used in the future. Now classical realistic artworks sell well on the market because common citizens love them, yet they cannot represent any direction, future or exploration of art.
Yin Zhaoyang: The Conservative Mindset in the Financial Crisis Resurrected the Realism Fever
The so called Chinese Realism School is another informal wording used in art circles which classified some peoples with one concept. Actually there are many artists, including Fang Lijun and Zhang Xiaogang using realistic method in painting, yet could you say they belong to Realism School? This is a small problem. These artists we are talking about has a common characteristic, namely they stick to aestheticism; if we really want to give them a title, maybe Aesthetic Figurative Artists would be more proper. As a group, they are actually worthy of great respect. I only have dealings with some of them who could all be regarded as my predecessors. They are highly qualified and are seriously to art; they love painting and do things cautiously; certainly you could regard their cautiousness as conservativeness, it’s up to you. We know it is only in recent several years that contemporary art began to be sought after by market; when everyone are gazing at the luminous source, there would inevitably be some other things neglected. In fact, if you keep an eye on the fact, you would find that realistic paintings have always been sold on very expensive price from the very beginning of this artistic market. Actually the only reason why you think realistic paintings are valued again is that people’s focus point turned back to these realistic artists again; yet in fact they have always been valued. Now the prosperity of realistic paintings on market could be understood as a kind of transformation in interests. Although this transformation in interests is not wrong, it is not perfect. Art should encourage innovation and stimulate creativity, however there is always appealing for treasureing classics. We should be careful that classics does not equal to realism. Nowadays, collectors’ recognition of realistic style arts may be more of a conservative mind-set under financial crisis. All realistic painters are very serious in painting and never finish a works with several casual brushstrokes; this may make people feel safe to buy them. People begin to have some suspicion towards contemporary art and slow down their steps in buying contemporary art, which may be good in my opinion. The most important point in choosing artwork is to see whether it is what you like, which is the first criterion in appraising art; and the second important point is to see whether you succeeded in your choice. If you follow to seek after some artistic form when it is popular in the market, then all should go back to academies of art to practice basic skill and create realistic works; yet it is definitely wrong to do this and I think it is what the artists should know. Realistic painting would exist forever as a class, which would always move in circles like fashion trend, like for example, the French court art would be pursued and admired again and again in certain stages. Realism is but a superficial phenomenon and what you are expressing with it is the key point; if you transmit a kind of sentiment and condition at the very present with realistic skill, then it is valuable. What’s the so called contemporary art? It represents the future. I think what collectors are collecting must be the future.
Qiu Xiaofei: I Have no Interest in Realism since My Childhood
I know little about realistic painting in the past two years. It was a long time ago when I was in high school and at college that I got to hear such a school called Realism and I also browsed some of those works. I didn’t have any strong feeling on such kind of artworks from the very beginning when I saw them because the painters’ perspective and thought were too realistic; in another word, nothing else but that the technique of imitation from the subjects mattered in their paintings. Therefore, I never had any interest in such kind of works from the very beginning. The collectors I have met or my friends in art gallery circles are not interested in Realism schools, either. We seldom discuss over it. My first teacher of realistic painting is Mr. Yang Feiyun who once gave me one or two lectures when I studied at the Central Academy of Fine Arts. As a student, I was not quite good at realistic painting with my poor basic skill. So I became uninterested in technique. At that time many of my classmates were used to classical realistic oil paintings. However once they began to talk about Renaissance or New Classical art, I would leave in no time. Realistic school and contemporary school are exactly distinct in the consideration of the fact that realistic school focuses on aspects of technique and visual effect while conceptual art discusses the function of art from another perspective. Hence, they have no comparability. Even though they are both called art, just like classical music and pop music are both music yet they don’t belong to the same business.
Li Wei: Contemporary Art is the Real Marginal Art.
I know that many painters in realistic painting school are very key figures in previous China oil painting circle. When I saw that they organized such a painting school, I am a little bit surprised. The reason is that usually only the disadvantaged people will organize some schools to strengthen their power. On the other hand, personally I extremely disapprove of the behavior of involving myself into a circle or a group, because art is to make us free and it needs constant breakthrough and subversion. In fact, works exist for showing yourself. I don’t know what the purpose of China realistic painting is, but from a realistic point of view, the establishment of schools might be a better promotion of themselves. It is obviously absurd to measure the aesthetic orientation of the market by realistic works. Realistic painting has been selling well all along，so aesthetic problems never exist in it. In fact, the key problem is not whether it is realistic. In addition, there are problems of what do we refer to when we talk about ‘aesthetics’? Is it external beauty? As far as I know, most external beauty is realized on the premise of sacrificing inner spirit. The works with beautiful appearance are just like the emissary from Khwarezmia, who are afraid of being thrown into the cage to feed the tiger and only report good news. But is it means that the bad news does not exist when it is not reported? The concepts of realistic and contemporary can’t be compared on the same level. In recent years, Chinese contemporary art seems to be very popular, but in fact, the contemporary art is the real marginal art in the vast masses of Chinese people. Instead, realistic painting is more mainstream and has much wider mass foundation. Moreover, can art be measured by realistic and contemporary? Isn’t there realism in contemporary art? I don’t know the establishment of Contemporary Art Academy of China, but it is certainly good if the institute can contribute to the contemporary art of China. I am not included in system, and won’t profit from it. When people are free, they could feel more happiness. What I mean is the real happiness in heart, rather than the happiness came from comparing with others.
Xiang Jing: Realism is an Infatuation towards Skill
I think realistic art is a kind of representation form, which is fairly distinctive especially in China. Realistic art has been the most important part in academic education in a long period and dominated Chinese artistic education during the last few decades with a large number of artists with realistic skill been produced. Yet from the perspective of artistic quality, Realism school might be more traditional and closer to Genre Painting. Although realistic art is popular in the market, yet those who are collecting realistic art are not many; therefore, it is hard to say that Realism represents a kind of public aesthetic taste, but rather, some taste of some collector group. People who love realism should be different from those who love contemporary art, although there might be some of them love these two kinds of art both; yet collectors who really love Realism school might have little interest in contemporary art. Actually, many people who love realistic art has an infatuation towards skill; I have talked with many collectors who believe that art should definitely has some technical content; while many contemporary arts have concepts of anti-art or anti-technique, which made collectors feel that these arts, without technical content look not high qualified and are low leveled. There is no need for contemporary art refuse realism; contemporary is an open concept which is not distinguished with the criterion of being figurative or not. You could regard my sculptures to be very realistic, yet I definitely don’t belong to Realism school; I think my work belongs to contemporary art. The establishment of CAAC is merely a phenomenon which cannot prove that contemporary art is also involved into the system like realistic art, but maybe in the long run it would show some significance and reveal some problems. However at present, the survival capability of this institute should still be tested by time and how to construct its system is also waiting for examination. Yet, it also showed the fact that people’s acceptance of contemporary art concept is better now. The information that even NAMOC would establish a contemporary art museum also showed that contemporary art is no longer underground. This is good, it represents the progress of this times.
《No Art 中国艺术新闻》 2009年12月刊 “封面故事”