Meg Maggio's Selection: 10 Brilliant Chinese Artists

January 27, 2015

Commenting on our selection of 10 Chinese Artists, the Beijing gallerist Meg Maggio suggested an alternative version. We were happy to accept her view, given that Meg is the pioneer at the eastern art market, one of the leading gallerists in China today.
Originally from Boston, a lawyer Meg Maggio first moved to China in 1986. Between 1998 and 2005 she was running one of the first Chinese galleries in Beijing, Courtyard Gallery. Pékin Fine Arts followed, opened in 2005 in a space designed by Ai Weiwei. The first gallery is located in Caochangdi Village of Beijing, and the second space, opened in 2012, is set in Wong Chuk Hang in Hong Kong.
Many of the world famous Chinese artists worked with Meg and she helped a number of creatives launch and establish respected careers. Pékin Fine Arts represents some of the chief artists from the region and has sold pieces to major museums across the globe.
Meg Maggio’s selection of 10 Chinese artists was assembled, as she put it from Mainland and in no particular order, so enjoy learning about these Risk-takers, independent thinkers, innovators.

Zhang Huan

Zhang Huan is known as one of the most daring and provocative artists in China today. His performances have drawn the attention of the global artistic community, but also of Chinese authorities, due to their edgy nature and unapologetic messages. Using his body as a channel for communicating spiritual and meditative ideas, Huan engages in existential investigation accompanied with strong social commentary. Originating from the artistic Beijing East Village, Zhang Huan lived in New York for 8 years until 2005, when he moved back to China, this time Shanghai. His work is famous and exhibited worldwide, from China to the USA, across Europe, seeing some of the most prestigious exhibition spaces such as Palazzo Vecchio in Florence or Pace London last year.
The work of Zhang Huan is produced in various media, and while his current practice is more studio-based, he became known for his performances. He usually engaged in these happenings naked, calling the attention of the public and directing it towards the crucial, frequently over the absurd. His To Raise the Water Level in the Fishpond from 1997 involved 40 migrant workers standing in a fishpond, trying to raise the water level of it by their bodily volume. His later work diverted towards installation, public art, drawing and painting, but the Buddhism-infused language remained constant, as did the vitality of Huan’s expression.

Chen Shaoxiong

Born in Guangdong province in 1962, Chen Shaoxiong today lives and works in Beijing. His formal education was in the field of printmaking, but his artistic activity encompasses a variety of media. He is a founding member of one of the most influential collectives in Chinese contemporary art, the Big Tail Elephant Collective, but he works as a solo artist as well.
Photography, video, installation and ink painting can be seen across Shaoxiong’s oeuvre, while his conceptual explorations engage in rendering of China’s rapidly growing urban zones and history. Placing his subjects, extracted from the everyday, against an imaginary skyline, Chen Shaoxiong emphasizes the absurdity of the minor reality and concerns in comparison to the bigger picture. His models are taken from the street, with themes from family life, politics, gossip and entertainment industry, nightlife and obscure, illegal activities.
The expression of Chen Shaoxiong concerns today, but it’s deeply rooted in tradition, as the artist chooses ink painting as a base, or a transformative medium for photographic or video documents. Collective history, consciousness, unconsciousness and reality pervades his work, mixing the unknown with the famous and the important with trivial, challenging the viewer to differ one from another on a deeper level.

Ai Weiwei - Alcatraz Project

Ai Weiwei is probably the most famous Chinese contemporary artist today. Despite his problems with the authorities, this brilliant creative has found the way of crossing borders via Internet, but through long-distance creativity as well. His recent show at Blenheim Palace was entirely planned remotely, while all the artwork was produced in the UK, according to the very detailed instructions from the artist. His Alcatraz project sends a powerful message of life in confinement, while other artists such as Shepard Fairey have paid homage to Weiwei, inviting the government officials of China to give back the passport to the artist! Meanwhile, Ai’s influence and importance is growing, and as long as the flowers are fresh in front of his house, the world will keep on watching!

Wang Xingwei

Famous for his theatrical paintings, Wang Xingwei is today known as one of China’s most mature contemporary painters. Kitschy and dramatic scenes he produces are filled with color and unexpected iconographical solutions. This 45 year old artist daringly conflates Chinese and Western influences and juxtaposes them in an overt manner, creating scenes adorned with various symbols, deliberately toying with kitsch. Wang is frequently the hero of his own works, while simultaneously attempting to achieve the full independence of the work of art, as free from the agency of the artist as possible. Interested in outdated conventions, the artist claims these areas are the ones in which people lack the most vigilance. In such an environment, he attempts to tackle the routine, and to implement the unexpected, making the observer feel slightly uneasy. Xingwei’s work was shown throughout the world, From Europe to China, and he was the exhibitor at the 48th Venice Biennale in 1999. Wang Xingwei lives and works in Haicheng.

Zheng Guogu

As one of the most respected artists from the country, Zheng Guogu received the Chinese Contemporary Art Award in 2006, the most prestigious art prize in China today, and his work was exhibited at documenta 12. Born in 1970, he was schooled as a printmaker, but his expression took him towards conceptual art inspired by globalizations. His work can be compared to stage design, as the artist creates parallel realities mixing the real and the imaginary. His artworks and projects encompass different media, including experimental photography, scrolls, large installations and public projects, while his Empire project expanded into a real environmental happening. Zheng Guogu bought 5,000 sqm of land in the suburbia of Yangjiang, his hometown, in 2000. He spread it illegally to over 40,000 since, the surface area which is still growing, emulating the conquering process of a video game Age of Empires, raising a set of complex questions about society, social development and its relations to the everyday life. His inspiration comes from the mass media and contemporary culture, mixed with the traditional ideas and arts of China and the world.

Xu Zhen - MadeIn

Xu Zhen is a versatile conceptual artist whose activity spans over installation, photography, video, performance and painting. His works are excellently executed, implementing the elegance of non-digital production, frequently shaped as theatrical antics. Focused on and emphasizing the human sensitivity to the outside world, Xu Zhen’s art brings forward the drama of the accelerating urban way of life, distinctly highlighting and criticising political problems and taboos in contemporary Chinese society. Artworks of Xu Zhen have been in exhibitions in major venues in the world, including MoMA, Tate, PS1, Mori Art Museum, and Venice Biennale. He lives and works in Shanghai.

Huang Yong-Ping

Born in Xiamen, China in 1954, Huang Yong Ping has been residing in Paris since 1989. He is still known as one of the foremost representatives of Chinese Avant-garde, because of his daring, influential art.
Huang Yong Ping’s progressive nature is much clearer knowing that he was directly influenced by three of the most important conceptual artists of the century - Joseph Beuys, John Cage and Marcel Duchamp. In 1986, the Chinese artist founded the Xiamen Dada with three other fellow artists. Guided by postmodernist, radically avantgarde ideas, Yong Ping deconstructed different artistic notions taken from history and contemporary art, Huang Yong Ping engaged in experimentation and development of his visually stunning and conceptually complicated oeuvre. Since he immigrated to France, his world fame grew, and he represented his new homeland at the Venice Biennale in 1999.

Cai Guo-Qiang

Cai Guo-Qiang was born in Quanzhou City in 1957, but he studied stage design in Shanghai, where he learned the art of drawing, installation, video and performance. From the mid-80s to mid-90s, the artist lived in Japan researching influence of gunpowder on his drawings, which led him to further experiments with explosions as an art form. Concept of his art is based on eastern philosophy and contemporary social problems, while his explosive performances are typically site-specific.

Cai was awarded by prestigious institutions multiple times, from Japan Cultural Design Prize in 1995, over Golden Lion at Venice Biennale in 1999, to 2007 Hiroshima Art Prize and AICA’s first place for Best Project in Public Space in 2010. He was appointed Director of Visual and Special Effects for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, and everyone remembers what a spectacle it was. In 2012 Cai received the Praemium Imperiale, an award for lifetime achievement in the arts, in categories not recognized by the Nobel Prize. He was among the five artists honored by the US State Department for the outstanding commitment to international cultural exchange. Works of Cai Guo-Qiang were exhibited across the globe in many renowned art institutions. He currently lives and works in New York.

Xu Bing

Born in Chongqing in 1955, Xu Bing grew up in Beijing, where he was schooled as well. His studying years were briefly interrupted towards the end of Cultural Revolution in 1975, and he spent two years outside of the city. When he returned to the academy, he graduated and in 1987 received his MA. Only two years later, after the Tiananmen Square protests, his works was increasingly criticized by the officials, compelling the artist to move to New York in 1990, like many of his contemporaries. Only in 2008, Xu Bing returned to China, when he got appointed the vice-president of the Central Academy of Fine Arts. His work, influenced by his studies, is very poetic, refined, infused with Chinese historical traditions and adorned in calligraphy. The known techniques and approaches are translated to different environments in Xu Bing’s work, becoming ambiental, transparent, or monumental. He was honored with awards from many institutions, predominantly in the States.

Zhang Xiaotao

Born in Hechuan, Chongqing in 1970, Zhang Xiaotao is today based in Beijing and Chengdu. He was trained in oil painting at the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts, where he graduated in 1996, subsequently working as a university teacher. His paintings are recognizable due to their vivid chromatism and refined, surreal manner of painting, but most of all for the frequent presence of sexual imagery often including small animals such as frogs or snakes, juxtaposed with symbols of pollution. Zhang is greatly inspired by water and his own childhood near-death experience, the life, and sex, as well as with the political situation, very subtly woven into his paintings. His piece Condom Series: Enlarged Props – Crystal And Fishes 2 was sold as a Sotheby’s auction in 2007 reaching almost $65,000.

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