In the metastasising mega-cities where more than half of China’s people live, change is the only constant. As shabby residential districts are replaced by gleaming skyscrapers, people’s anxiety is rising as fast as their expectations. As new possibilities emerge, old certainties are falling apart.
Under Mao, the Communist Party set out to “smash the Four Olds”: customs, culture, habits and ideas. Now the “new China” it built is itself under assault. Having tasted freedom, many people want more than the system is prepared to give. The abuses and dysfunctions of that system only increase their frustration. The monolithic edifice of Party rule—symbolised by Wang Guofeng’s photographs of grand communist buildings—is starting to show cracks.
SMASH PALACE, which runs until August 4, surveys the reactions of China’s best contemporary artists to the shocks of the new century. Some question the solidity of the status quo; others look beneath the surface and find monsters lurking. Some find reality so absurd that fantasy or mockery seems the only proper response; still others reach for anchors in the same Olds that the Maoists were so determined to erase.
Cheng Dapeng and Zhou Jie create surreal cities using, respectively, cutting-edge 3D printing and traditional ceramics. The huge weather balloon of Zhou Xiaohu’s Even in Fear swells like the pressure of modern life, then collapses, only to swell again. In a space the size of a cupboard, Jin Shi replicates in cheap and grimy detail the home of a poor urban migrant. Yang Yongliang uses computer graphics to “paint” the ugly landscapes of boomtown Shanghai in the spirit of the old masters. Tzeng Yong-Ning sees his furious scribbles of red gel pen as a link between traditional calligraphy and contemporary chaos, while Zhang Tingqun’s intricate network of lines was inspired by cracked china bowls.
White Rabbit is open Thursday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. We close during February and August to install new shows.