Shotgun Reviews

My Generation: Young Chinese Artists at Tampa Museum of Art and Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Danny Olda reviews My Generation: Young Chinese Artists, a joint exhibition of the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, and the Tampa Museum of Art.

Xu Zhen. Fearless, 2012; mixed media on canvas; 254 x 124 ½ in. Produced by MadeIn. Courtesy of the Artist and Long March Space, Beijing.

Xu Zhen. Fearless, 2012; mixed media on canvas; 254 x 124 ½ in. Produced by MadeIn. Courtesy of the Artist and Long March Space, Beijing.

My Generation: Young Chinese Artists is a joint exhibition between two Florida museums: the Tampa Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg. Focusing specifically on mainland Chinese artists born after the death of Mao Zedong, it is the first comprehensive U.S. museum survey of the sort. It may be in light of this that the exhibition seems compelled to cover a lot of conceptual ground. Between the two venues, My Generation is segmented into a number of themes running the gamut of contemporary concerns, such as “Family Ties” and “Gestures of Rebellion.” However, because the work is sufficiently varied and complex, the exhibition moves beyond being a primer on Chinese contemporary art.

At the Tampa Museum of Art, under the theme “Gender Roles and Intimate Relationships,” Yan Xing’s black-and-white, single-channel video Arty, Super Arty (2013) cycles through various scenes populated only by men and sparse sets, while visually referencing the work of Edward Hopper and film noir. Little happens throughout the video beyond quiet glances and subtle gestures—characters nearly touch, but never quite make a connection. The film noir atmospherics and melodramatic cinematography give way to a certain lonely sexual potentiality that swells without release or resolution in the looped video. Yet, while the way in which the piece comments on sexuality is poignant, Arty, Super Arty is also an adept handling of American art, or really the nebulous idea that swaddles art. The video swims in a self-aware coolness, displaying rather than denying the aura that surrounds it.

Across Tampa Bay in the Museum of Fine Arts hangs Fearless (2012), a large mixed-media work on canvas by Shanghai-based artist Xu Zhen. While containing Chinese imagery, the churning composition is heavily punctuated by Western imagery such as political cartoons, a portrait of Nietzsche, and the head of Medusa. The contrast of the two is especially noteworthy in light of Fearless also being attributed to MadeIn, Xu’s “contemporary art-creation company, focused on the production of creativity.” The tapestry’s textiles and the production company’s name point to the unique labor and class concerns of China. Yet Fearless perhaps points more strongly toward China’s “production” of a cultural identity and Western assumptions often projected onto it. Though not formally explored in My Generation, this dichotomy emerges repeatedly throughout the exhibition. Among the most compelling aspects of My Generation: the awareness of many artists that they are at the bleeding edge of China’s art history, the responsibility of building a personal and collective cultural identity upon that foundation, and its complicated relationship with various Western influences.

My Generation: Young Chinese Artists is on view at the Tampa Museum of Art in Tampa Bay through September 28, 2014.

Danny Olda is a writer and editor based in Florida.