The art coming out of China today represents a new force on the international contemporary art landscape. Despite their increased exposure to the tropes and ideas of Western art, contemporary Chinese artists are creating an increasingly diverse and unique oeuvre in a global context.
At White Rabbit Gallery in Chippendale, philanthropist and gallerist Judith Neilson hosts biannual exhibitions that she curates from her private collection of largely Chinese work. What Neilson and gallery manager (and daughter) Paris do so well to is enrich viewers’ understanding of the work a visual, conceptual and a wider cultural context.
White Rabbit Gallery’s forthcoming exhibition, Double Take, presents an opportunity for audiences to rethink Chinese contemporary art. In re-presenting some of the gallery’s most popular artworks in a new light, Double Take looks back to the past and forward into the future to encourage a dialogue between time, place, artist and viewer.
“We’ll be re-presenting some of our ‘greatest hits’, placing them in new combinations that we hope will strike sparks, and sometimes using one work to comment on another,” says the younger Neilson. “The other aspect of the theme is that most of the works in this show are not what they seem at first. You think you know what you’re looking at, but when you look again, you see it in a completely different way.”
Double Take’s central theme is most strikingly apparent in the work of celebrated Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. His work, Sunflower Seeds, comprises 500 kilograms of individually hand-painted ceramic seeds made with such precision that one would be forgiven for mistaking them as the real deal. “The work itself was intended as a comment on multiple aspects of Communism and the Cultural Revolution – the heaping of unique individuals into a single grey mass, the famines that made sunflower seeds a genuine treat, and Mao’s insistence that he was the sun and that the Chinese people were sunflowers, turning their faces to him,” says Neilson. The work is a poignant reminder of the paralysis experienced by civilians under a Communist agenda and violent political corruption.
Tu Wei-Cheng’s Valentine’s Day chocolate shop further explores Double Take’s thematic thread. Viewers receive a makeshift chocolate shop, decked out with pink ribbon and hearts, but upon closer inspection realise that the ‘chocolates’ on display are actually tiny tanks, guns and hand grenades. A comment on humanity’s distrust of any cultural utopia and a work founded on optical illusion, Valentine’s Day chocolate shop is the perfect embodiment of the double take. Equally as compelling is Shi Jindian’s wire jeep. “The wire jeep chassis comes from a vehicle that was once almost ubiquitous in China, but which civilians were forbidden to own. Shi Jindian encased every part of a jeep in a crocheted net of thin wire, then extracted the parts so the whole jeep seems to be made of air,” explains Neilson. A classic case of all is not what it seems.
Focusing on works produced after 2000, White Rabbit Gallery is committed to exposing the work of Chinese artists who are pushing the boundaries in an international setting. Double Take showcases an allegorical framework for this and will find viewers looking at renowned works in thought-provoking new ways.
Double Take opens at the White Rabbit Gallery on August 31.