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Artists who are Pushing the Boundaries of Chinese Contemporary Art


Artists who are Pushing the Boundaries of Chinese Contemporary Art
Lin Tianmiao, Systems at Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai. Image courtesy of e-flux.

Across China, from painting to new media art, Chinese contemporary artists are pushing the boundaries of their artistic practices.  While more well known post-Cultural Revolution artists, such as Zhang Xiaogang, Wang Guangyi and Zeng Fanzhi, continue to enjoy great success in blue-chip galleries and auction houses, the overall Chinese art scene is constantly evolving as a new generation of artists emerges. Artists are experimenting more with new media, including video art, and searching for ways in which art can be combined with technology. These artists simultaneously provide artistic commentary on current socio-political issues, such as China's One Child Policy, and globalization. 

The Artling presents our list of artists who are pushing Chinese contemporary art forward


Cao Fei

Cao Fei, Asia One, 2018

Cao Fei, Asia One, 2018, still from multichannel video installation, color, sound, dimensions variable. Image courtesy the artist.

Cao Fei hails from Guangzhou, in the Guangdong Province. Using photography, video and digital media, she critiques on everyday environments from 1992. During this time, China experienced rapid economic growth and globalization, and Cao Fei’s fascination with youth subcultures in this era led to themes of alienation and displacement in her practice. She toggles between the relationship between “virtual and real worlds, utopia and dystopia, and the body and technology”. Cao Fei pushes Chinese contemporary art through these commentaries that use alternative mediums such as virtual reality platforms. 

Her works have been commissioned by the Guggenheim Museum in New York, as well as Tai Kwun Contemporary in Hong Kong. Solo exhibitions include those at the Power Station of Art in Shanghai, Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, and MoMA PS1 in New York. 

Xu Zhen


SHANGHART SUPERMARKET | XU Zhen – produced by MadeIn Company. Image courtesy of ShanghART

Xu Zhen is the youngest Chinese artist to have participated in the main thematic exhibition of the Venice Biennale. His works lie on the plane of the conceptual and pop, constructing a practice that is at once both aesthetic and provocative. His works mirror China’s post-Mao evolution into consumerism, first undertaking “behavioural and cultural experiments” as an autonomous artist. He does this via controversial performances, videos and installations that confront sociopolitical taboos in contemporary China. 

Xu Zhen continues to push the ever-burgeoning framework of Chinese contemporary art forward not only through his works, but also through how he absorbed his own individual artistic identity and transformed it into ‘MadeIn Company. MadeIn, an art creation company, focuses on the production of creativity and is devoted to the research of contemporary culture’s infinite possibilities. MadeIn Company has since has selected exhibitions at The 7th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, Gallery of Modern Art and Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, Australia; The Unseen – The 4th Guangzhou Triennial, Guangdong Museum of Art, Canton, 2012, and Inside the White Cube, White Cube, London, U.K., 2012. 

Song Dong & Yin Xiuzhen

Song Dong, Yin Xiuzhen and Song ErRui

Song Dong, Yin Xiuzhen and their daughter Song ErRui, The Way of Chopsticks. Image courtesy of Huffington Post.

Song Dong and Yin Xiuzhen can credit their collaboration to a gallerist who approached them and suggested they exhibit a joint project together. They began their ongoing project, ‘The Way of the Chopsticks’, in 2001 with its third installment debuting on 11 November 2011, or 11/11/11, as the date resembled chopsticks. This transformative, site-specific installation seeks to explore generational and cultural shifts in contemporary China. 

Their critiques on the evolution of modernising China are carried through the narratives of their works. In executing this, they even collaborated with their 11-year old daughter on an installation that was housed in the Wetherill Mansion, transforming it into a three-story multimedia exploration that delineates modern family life in China. This work traces family dynamics from the 1960s to 70s where large families were the norm to the present day where children, like their daughter, are fast becoming the majority. 

Song Dong and Yin Xiuzhen have exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, as well as the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing. Yin also represented China at the Venice Biennale in 2007.

Qiu Zhijie 

Qiu Zhijie, Tattoo 2

Qiu Zhijie, Tattoo 2. Image courtesy of Google Arts & Culture 

Qiu Zhijie combines his text and calligraphy based practice with photography, performance, installation, painting and video. He has embarked on several major conceptual art projects - one of which was an exploration into the suicides that take place at a major bridge that for decades was a symbol of Communist self-reliance. His oeuvre is representative of an experimental communication between Chinese literary tradition, and contemporary art, social engagement and the power of art to liberate the self. 

Qiu created one of the most famous images of post-cultural revolution China which depicted a picture of himself from the waist up, shirtless and against a white wall with a red “不” or “No”. This was part of his ‘Tattoo’ series that was started in 1994, where he painted words and patterns onto his body. Qiu curated the first video art exhibition in 1996, and in 2012 was the chief curator of the Shanghai Biennale. 

Lin Tianmiao 

Lin Tianmiao, Systems at Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai. Image courtesy of e-flux. 

Lin Tianmiao was one of the first Chinese artists to receive international recognition. She is known for her use of thread winding with found objects such as silk, hair, cotton and felt. Lin works across a variety of media such as sculpture, photography and video, and is best known for her large-scale installations. Her works explore her own social roles and the relationship between identity and social context, constantly questioning the identity of womanhood and conventions of social roles as a mother. Whilst she was not initially driven by feminist identities behind her works, the public sought to question its presence in her practice, and this then prompted Lin to think about its feminist traits and power she has through being a woman artist. 

She has had solo exhibitions in China, Europe, and the United States, at the Asia Society Museum in New York, the Istanbul Biennale, Gwangju Biennale, and Setouchi Biennale. Her works can be found in collections at the Brooklyn Museum, New York, M+ Hong Kong, and the Singapore Art Museum. 

Liu Dao 六岛

ISLAND6 六岛 (LIU DAO), Aliens.

ISLAND6 六岛 (LIU DAO), Aliens. Available on The Artling

Liu Dao 六岛 (pinyin: Liù dǎo) is a Shanghai-based art collective of tech-geeks and creative talents driven by innovation and interaction. Their spirit and purpose behind all of their works, including art, literary contributions, and exhibitions are all collaborative. They place strong emphasis on interaction, engaging with artists, curators and technicians in the process of creating and experiencing art focusing on collective rather than individual values, with the direct aim of benefiting a young Chinese contemporary art scene promotionally and creatively. 

Liu Dao is made of artists, art directors, curators and guest curators as well as a technical team. When the collective is not making art, each individual helps in running the exhibition space. Liu Dao constantly push the framework of how Chinese contemporary art is viewed, produced, and interacted with. They have exhibited at the Special invitations for solo and group shows include Louis Vuitton Cultural Space in Taipei and Macao, The Andaz Collection and Rockbund Art Museum in Shanghai. 

Ciu Jie

Ciu Jie at Richard D. Baron ’64 Gallery, Oberlin College

Ciu Jie at Richard D. Baron ’64 Gallery, Oberlin College. Image courtesy of Front Art. 

Ciu Jie is primarily a painter, making her a rarity amongst many of China’s youngest artists who often work in multi-media. She plays with space and dimensionality that take shape in her geometric artistic concoctions of Chinese cityscapes. Most of her oeuvre constitutes models of Chinese cultural landmarks of the 1980s and 90s, structures that are either demolished or are soon-to-be.

Ciu has been described by the Wall Street Journal as one of “China’s Rising Art Stars”. Graduating from the China Academy of Art’s Oil Painting Department, her classical training is undeniable in her most recent works. These merge an array of architectural styles, creating fantastical, futuristic imageries of Chinese metropolises. She pushes Chinese contemporary art forward through, contrastingly, her traditional background that is diminishing in Chinese artists, keeping the medium of painting alive. She has exhibited internationally, from China, Europe and the United States, 

Cheng Ran 

Cheng Ran, The Lament: Mountain Ghost, 2018

Cheng Ran, The Lament: Mountain Ghost, 2018, single-channel video with sound. Image courtesy of Ota Fine Arts. 

Hailing from Inner Mongolia, Cheng Ran’s dominant influences are derived from literature, European Art House Cinema, and Western Pop Culture. By applying basic cinematic techniques such as cutting, rearranging and montaging films, he makes visible themes of unsolvable problems in life that puzzle young individuals in society. While no such answers exist, these themes highlight notions of identity, and life and death. 

Cheng Ran is the winner of the 2011 “Best Video Artist” in Dear Rabbit Awards held by Randian. In the winning film, he combines Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech with sinister and hypnotic imageries. Working along the genre of the post-modern, his works deal with meaning, copyright, and authenticity as he dives into existing plots and adds speculative stories. In our era of fast and fake news, Cheng Ran questions notions of truth from all angles, highlighting new narratives that instil curiosities in his viewers. He has exhibited at the New Museum in New York; K11 Art Foundation in Hong Kong, and the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing. 

Wang Sishun

Wang Sishun, 2.30am in Liminal Space, Long March Space, Beijing. Image courtesy of the artist. 

Wang Sishun subverts the properties, functions, and values of everyday readymade materials, allowing in his viewers a restructuring of sensory experiences of what objects they thought they once knew. His debut at with Liminal Space at Long March Space in Beijing featured four sculptural installations and a video work that was cited as “inspirational”. This exhibition further allowed viewers a rational experience of emotion rooted in the relationship between space and time. 

One of the first projects that brought him to the attention of Beijing’s art world is ‘Alloy II’, a screw made from melted and remolded coins that were drilled halfway through a gallery wall. Expanding on that, ‘Necessary Labour Time' used coins cast into rebar filed down to dust until what was left was a needle. The remnants of dust were collected into an hourglass, and sought to depict the metaphorical ways in which labor is weighed. Wang has exhibited internationally, from Europe, Canada, to Japan. 

Zhang Huan

Zhang Huan, 12 Square Meters

Zhang Huan, Long Island Buddha. Image courtesy of Yang Gallery

Zhang Huan’s practice references the history of China and includes significant political, intellectual, and religious figures to anonymous portraits and landscapes. He uses found objects for his two and three-dimensional works, constructing them with unusual organic materials, feathers, cowhides and so on. He also uses incense ash, a process that highlights religious ritual, and uses it to paint and sculpt his works. In 2006, he and Hu Chang Guan founded the Gaoan Foundation to focus in education, culture and Buddhism. 

Zhang is also known for his performances that test the limits of discomfort to which he can endure - as in ’65 Kilograms’ and ’12 Square Meters’, this stands especially true. Zhang has has performances and solo exhibitions at the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery in Toronto; Asia Society New York, and has exhibited in group exhibitions such as the Venice Biennale, Lyon Biennale and Whitney Biennale. 

Chen Xiaoyi

Chen Xiaoyi 陈萧伊, KOAN, photobook, 2017. Image courtesy of the artist. 

Born in Sichuan in 1992, Chen Xiaoyi received her MA in photography from the London College of Communications in 2014 and was there awarded the LCC/Photofusion Prize. She was also awarded the Three Shadows Photography award in 2015, cited as China’s most prestigious photography contest. Her works are natural and exude an oriental aesthetic that is contrasted by Western abstract art. Chen uses the mode of photography to question concepts pertaining to combinations of personal and philosophical. 

Through simplifying and abstracting what we view, Chen approaches her practice motivated by reviving spiritual awareness and intuition. She has exhibited internationally in Switzerland, United Kingdom, Greece, and Japan. 


To check out Chinese contemporary works on The Artling, click here.


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