By Rafael Tsao

This is one of those very rare and happy occasions when one of our readers, in response to a previous article, helps us to write a very interesting note about a theme that sadly we can only glimpse from afar: the Chinese contemporary art scene


Do you live in Shanghai? Wow! That is one of his most famous pieces. Did you like what you saw?

Yes I do. Actually I went for a nearby Joan Cornella. The show turned out to be rife with merchandise peddlers and clueless selfie-taking wannabe influencers. The Beuys one was an eye-opener as I had next to zero knowledge about the name beforehand. Saw some brilliant avant garde works.

Any comments about the art scene in Shanghai? From here one has the idea (or assumption) that it is very derivative. Meaningful art only exists in societies open to criticism, right?

‘Derivative’ is a fair phrase. Censorship must take its due blame but the problem does not end up there. My impression as a Shanghai native is that the populace here still live in the phase of artsy-fartsiness. Simply lacks a proper art education system and a tolerant atmosphere.

There is an ingrained depreciation of art education courtesy of the regime’s Communist nature. Art colleges are almost exclusive for underperforming students who stand little chance in the orthodox Gaokao system and wannabe celebrities.

The influx of capital to the art sector can be traced back to the late 2000s. Overnight they found art is not only posh but lucrative. More and more soap dramas shot scenes in Paris, Prague notwithstanding their middle-school student fan fiction script and acting. Just name a few.

Re those «purists» things don’t look promising either. Their access to the international art scene is limited. So is their knowledge if not a bit antiquated. For example, films of Bi Gan, the most hyped Chinese arthouse film director at the moment, is visibly derivative of Tarkovsky classics. Many of these Chinese artists seem to me still enjoy playing the leverage of «information asymmetry»: re-branding certain Western styles with some «Chinese characteristics» before selling them to international market with the niche of Orientalism then.

That’s a real indictment of a society as a whole. An impoverished reality where the technocrats are valued more than the humanists and the philosophers, e.g. those who might have the tools to criticise it.


This article was written via Twitter. Rafel Tsao is not only a Shanghai native and reader of Perro Negro but also an intelligent and open minded art consumer.

Main image; Portrait of Mao by Li Shan, Rouge Series. Poster of the recent Joseph Beuys’ exhibition in Shanghai and a clip from the film Long Day’s Journey Into Night by Bi Gan

The original article that initiated this conversation can be read here