Who: Barbara Pollack
What: Conversation, gallery talk, book signing in conjunction with publication of Brand New Art from China: A Generation on the Rise (Tauris, $25, September 2018)
Where: James Cohan Gallery, 291 Grand St., and Pace Gallery, 537 West Twenty-Fourth St.
When: Thursday, September 20, 6:00, and Tuesday, September 25, 6:00
Why: In 2010, when twi-ny interviewed art critic, curator, teacher, and writer Barbara Pollack about her book The Wild, Wild East: An American Art Critic’s Adventures in China, she said, “In New York, I am just another person trying to make a living by writing about art. But in China, I get treated like a star critic with a certain degree of power.” Pollack’s well-deserved prominence is evident in her follow-up, Brand New Art from China: A Generation on the Rise, which features a quote on the front from Ai Weiwei, who says, “Frank, honest, and full of passion. . . . a rare and precise insight.” A good friend of twi-ny’s, Pollack herself is certainly frank, honest, and full of passion. (Full disclosure: Pollack’s literary agent is also twi-ny’s business manager.) Pollack is indeed a superstar in China, where artists clamor for her to write about their work. The new book explores such Chinese artists as Cao Fei, Chen Tianzhuo, Chen Zhou, Gao Ling, Guan Xiao, Jin Shan, Li Liao, Liu Wei, Qiu Xiafoei, Zhang Xiaogang, and Xu Zhen, in such chapters as “The Last Chinese Artists,” “The Me Generation,” and “Post-Truth.” Here’s a brief excerpt about Xu:
There are many occasions when Xu Zhen has eschewed references to Chinese culture entirely or mixed up symbols so seamlessly that the only reaction could be total confusion. At one of MadeIn’s first exhibitions, the company produced an entire survey of “art from the Middle East,” combining aesthetic strategies from conceptual art practices with just enough stereotypes of the war-torn, Islamic-dominated region to evoke a Middle Eastern identity. There were mosques made of Styrofoam and Charlie Hebdo political cartoons woven into tapestries. There were sculptures made of barbed wire and a field of broken bricks set on an invisible waterbed, so the ground seemed to move like a silent earthquake. When these works were shown at James Cohan Gallery in New York in 2009—with the title “Lonely Miracle: Art from the Middle East”—most visitors had no choice but to assume these were products of a collective of Arab artists, which was exactly the point. In this globally driven art world, it is easy to fake ethnicity. All it takes is a bit of irony and just enough cultural references to add locality to the mix.
Pollack will be at James Cohan Gallery on September 20 at 6:00, in conversation with Xiaoyu Weng, the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation associate curator of Chinese art at the Guggenheim, followed by a book signing. On September 25 at 6:00, she will lead the gallery talk “Zhang Xiaogang & the Future of Chinese Art” at Pace in Chelsea, where “Zhang Xiaogang: Recent Works” is on view through October 20. To get a taste of Pollack’s thoughts on Zhang’s earlier work, here’s another excerpt from the book:
So, Zhang Xiaogang’s emphasis on a Chinese identity is not the result of isolation and ignorance of Western art practices but a reaction to his initial embrace of those trends. In Europe, he faced his crisis head-on by seeing the masterpieces of Western art history and feeling as if there was nothing more he could add to that legacy. Back in China, however, he was surrounded by a new cultural experience that could not be captured through Western iconography and symbols. His rejection of the West was not total. Instead, he embraced an approach that allowed for innovation in both Western and Chinese traditions for art.