In the 10 years since Chippendale’s White Rabbit Gallery opened, it has become one of Australia’s most celebrated exhibitors of contemporary Chinese art. Then, the gallery’s latest exhibition, celebrates a decade of bringing that art genre to Sydney. It’s not a debut, but a return. The exhibition will showcase more than 60 key pieces from the gallery’s first shows in 2009 and 2010, in the hopes that visitors will view the works in a new light.

The former Rolls Royce service depot and knitting factory in Chippendale’s backstreets is home to the world’s largest private collection of 21st-century contemporary Chinese art. Founder and director Judith Neilson has been hand-picking the works since the beginning of the century, and now has a collection of more than 2500 pieces that reflect the complexities and dualities of modern Chinese life.

White Rabbit showcases two exhibitions each year. Past monumental shows include Double Take (which had as its centrepiece an Ai Wei Wei work consisting of 500 kilograms of sunflower seeds), The Sleeper Awakens, Serve the People and the popular Paradi$e Bitch, which featured the neon-lit installation A Bunch of Happy Fantasies.

Then is a celebration of the gallery’s history, but it’s also a sentimental show for Neilson, who became enamoured with China’s art scene in the late ’90s after an encounter with artist Wang Zhiyuan. His piece Objects of Desire, a large pair of pink fiberglass underpants that light up and play music from 1930s Shanghai – alluding to the commodification of love – is part of the exhibition.

“I have seen a lot over the past 10 years,” Neilson tells Broadsheet. “The impact of the internet means that we share news and conversations with the world, even in more remote areas. Technology … science, gossip and life provide inspiration for artists who can exceed their previously restricted boundaries.

“The works in this show are the foundation of my collection. Twenty years ago I could not have imagined what a great document this could be.”

Though these works have previously been exhibited, curator David Williams thinks they can now be seen and understood in a new light. An example is Chen Wenling’s Valiant Struggle (2005), which critiqued the (then) newly wealthy China through the lens of a monstrous red car with an 11-metre tongue, from which hang porcine golden figures. I Love Beijing Tiananmen by Dai Hua is a six-metre-long digital scroll that introduces objects, commodities, pop-culture icons and graffiti into an imperial procession.

The cigarette-smoking schoolgirl in Bu Hua’s animation Savage Growth is back, as are the naked, anonymous figures in Zhang Dali’s Chinese Offspring, reflecting the migrant workers responsible for China’s wealth and prosperity. Exuviate 2 – Where Have All the Children Gone? by Jin Nü is an installation of starched children’s frocks, poignantly evoking lost childhoods.

The gallery’s theatrette will also feature works from pioneering Chinese video artists, including Zhang Peili, Zhou Xiaohu, Zhu Jia and Yang Zhenzhong.

“I would like to remember and share [these] exciting times with an old and new audience,” Neilson says. “I believe through the art, an audience can see the changing world.”

Then runs until January 26, 2020 at White Rabbit Gallery.

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