SERVE THE PEOPLE, 30 August 2013—2 February 2014
A slogan of the 1966–76 Cultural Revolution, “Serve the People” meant serving the great cause of socialism. Artists were crucial to that effort, but they had to make the right kinds of art: Soviet-style socialist realism or ink painting on revolutionary themes. All other art forms, Western or Chinese, were banned, and those who dared to practise them were vilified as capitalist-roaders and traitors.
The “opening up” that began in the 1980s led to a more expansive view of artists’ role: now they would serve the people by boosting China’s national image and income. “Today,” says the artist Liu Dahong, “we have a new cultural revolution.” The art market is booming and artists have unprecedented freedom to experiment and travel. And they serve people—and not only China’s people—in wildly different and distinctly individual ways. Many are rediscovering and revitalising the same traditions the Cultural Revolutionaries vowed to destroy. Some struggle to separate history from ideology, while others question the overlap—greater than ever in the digital age—between fact and fakery. Critiques of consumerism are common; a few artists express cautious criticism of corruption and censorship as well. But even those who stick to personal themes serve others by showing them new ways to see.
SERVE THE PEOPLE is curated by Edmund Capon, the longtime Director and Chief Curator of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, who has been involved with Chinese art both classical and contemporary for more than 40 years and made the first of his many visits to China in 1974, at the height of the Cultural Revolution.
Capon’s informed and inspired selection surveys the best artworks of the 21st-century cultural revolution, all as individual as their creators: from Yan Siwen’s old-fashioned love story to MadeIn’s glorious multicultural mash-up, and from Chili’s crazy comic opera to Jin Feng’s 100-year history, printed with old tank tyres and a broken statue of Mao.
White Rabbit is open Thursday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. We close during February and August to install new shows.