I was interested in your article on the opening of the Ullens Center of Contemporary Art in Beijing and its inaugural exhibition, “ ‘85 New Wave” (December 2007, pp33-34). I feel that the show would have benefited from more serious research and a more responsible attitude towards history. Not only does it leave out many important artists and artist groups active during that period, the selection is much too personal. An exhibition of a certain historic weight should be much more objective.
After the end of the Cultural Revolution and the opening up of the country, Chinese intellectuals suddenly encountered a lot of Western art movements and philosophical ideas, often out of their original contexts. They incorporated such knowledge with their own environment and experience and were eager to come up with their own theories and interpretations. That is why the mid 80s was a period full of emerging ideas, mostly fragmented, unformulated, incomplete, but original. This state and dynamism of the cultural production from the mid 80s is not reflected in the show at all. Instead, the exhibition mostly includes artists whose work is highly recognised by the art market today; it leaves out parallel practice from that period, revealing the utilitarian mindset of the curator.
The Ullens Centre will attract both local and foreign visitors, but mostly cultural tourists from abroad. At the moment, it has very little engagement with the local art community and it is hard to predict what kind of impact it will have on the local art scene. One hopes that it can develop a strong programme of high quality international museum exhibitions, which should be educational.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as ‘First Ullens show is not representative of its subject matter'