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. 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.