6 Chinese Artists you Should Know

China is a breeding ground for contemporary artists, and visionaries have continued to conquer the art market over the past two decades. Sometimes provocative, sometimes playful, but never lacking in inspiration; the works of Chinese artists are constantly surprising us. Here is a list of 10 Chinese artists that you should definitely know about. Whether renowned or emerging, you shouldn’t miss their latest creations.

Liu Bolin, Instant Noodles, 2013
Liu Bolin, Istant Noodles, 2013

1) Ai WeiWei

Ai WeiWei Fuck
Ai WeiWei, Fuck

He doesn’t need presenting: Ai Weiwei is one of the most famous Chinese contemporary artist in the world. Ai Weiwei’s works focus upon the power of Beijing, with messages that defy the influence of the authorities. For this, he has paid the price. Today exiled in Berlin, Ai Weiwei continues his artistic struggle against the injustice in the world. Recently, this has turned his attention to the fate imposed by the European powers on refugees who use the Mediterranean’s migration route.

Several trips to Lesbos have inspired his shocking pieces. In particular, the photograph of himself lying face down on a beach. This photograph evoked the death of the little Aylan, who was only three years old, when he was found on a Turkish beach. This news sent shock waves across the globe. With his provocative evocation of this image, Ai Weiwei reminds us that a purely emotional reaction is not enough, and he calls for solidarity around social injustice. Among his other highly engaged creations is an installation made up of 14,000 life jackets. This was to represent the refugees who arrived to the Greek Island of Lesbos. These were hung on the facade of a theater in Berlin. This is what is so important about Ai Weiwei: his art focuses upon current events and the world that surrounds us.

2) Liu Bolin

Liu Bolin, Balloon, 2012
Liu Bolin, Balloon, 2012

All Liu Bolin‘s photographs contain hidden self-portraits, making him the “least visible” among the most famous Chinese artists. His interest in camouflage was born out of a trend in Chinese society: that of ignoring the individual. This was something that touched Liu Bolin in 2005, when his studio in the village of Suo Jiacun in Beijing was destroyed. This came as part of a development project in preparation for the 2008 Olympic games. Since then, the artist has expanded his approach across the continents, with works in China and major European cities such as Brussels. In 2016, he organized a performance in front of the Pyramid of the Louvre. At this time he was also camouflaged by French artist JR. In 2017, Liu Bolin showed off his talent, working with the Brand Moncler for their SS17 collection.

3) Ren Hang

Ren Hang

Like Ai Weiwei and Liu Bolin, the provocation of the the Chinese Regime is palpable in Ren Hang‘s work. However, this provocation is expressed in a different way. As a reaction to a conservative Chinese society, Ren Hang plays with nudity, bodies and gender. But her approach also focus on aesthetic: in his photographs bodies are presented as poetic and delicate. Ren Hang’s work has been banned in multiple galleries across China, but this has not hindered her popularity in Europe. Presented at the FIAC in 2014, the world of art was full of promise for the young photographer who sadly passed away in February 2017 at the age of 29. 

4) Wang Haiyang

Vidéo: Freud, Fish and Butterfly Copyright © Wang Haiyang

This young artist goes beyond the norms of contemporary Chinese art, and is often socially and politically engaged. His painting reveals the anxiety of his subconscious and his buried desires. He represents these inner thoughts in imaginary scenes in which he is transformed, challenging the visual and emotional comfort of the viewer. His dreamy pieces come close to surrealism and over the past few years have take the form of videos. They are animated paintings that require infinite patience to make, since the final video is the product of multiple images of the same drawing.

5) Xu Zhen

Portrait of Xu Zhen, Adrien Bernard
Portrait of Xu Zhen, Adrien Bernard

A multi-faceted artist, Xu Zhen is one of the big names of Chinese contemporary art. The reason he gained this reputation is because ever since he started exhibiting, the artist has regularly changed subjects and mediums. He creates videos that look like commercials or documentaries, traditional ceramics with mutant forms, abstract paintings, figurative frescoes and soft fabric sculptures are just some examples of his eclecticism. During his presence at the Louis Vuitton Foundation in 2016, the artist presented a monumental sculpture composed of a bodhisattva topped with a replica of the ancient statue “The Winged Victory of Samothrace”. 

6) Feng Kaixuan

Fen Kaixuan, Coffee Filter 91-s
Fen Kaixuan, Filtre à café 91-s

A performer, photographer and painter, Feng Kaixuan, has been living in France since 2006. Using coffee filters that she transforms into Chinese fan-shaped prints, the artist constructs bridges between traditional and contemporary Chinese art. This object of consumption becomes a work of art with the addition of lines of ink. Feng Kaixuan is constantly updating her practice, she recently tried contemporary theatre, during a four-act dance spectacle, body painting, calligraphy and performance. Don’t miss her performances where she does calligraphy by applying ink to a huge canvas using her hair as a brush!

As you can see, China is a country that produces artists who constantly push boundaries, despite the overhanging presence of their government, making it one of the most relevant and exciting art markets in the world. To delve even deeper into this fascinating artistic world, check out the works of these 6 Chinese artists on Artsper! 

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