China's ultra-capitalist south belies artistic soul

Fri Nov 14, 2008 9:41am EST
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By James Pomfret

GUANGZHOU (Reuters Life!) - It's a highly commercial, thriving metropolis in a region best known as the factory of the world, but South China's Guangzhou has also been steadily building a reputation for its vibrant contemporary art scene.

Over the past few months, the Guangzhou Triennial, a major three-yearly Chinese art event has showcased the eclectic works of 178 international and Chinese contemporary artists around the show's theme "Farewell to Post-Colonialism.

The exhibition housed in the Guangdong Museum of Art on the banks of the Pearl River, is a feast for the senses and intellect with works including Lu Jie's revolving door painted with the words "No Foreigners Beyond this Point," a large painting by Liu Xiaodong of Tibetan herders with the controversial China-Tibet railway in the distance, and an apocalyptic animation of a disintegrating metropolis by Paris-based Chinese artist Zhou Yi.

The Triennial's three curators who hail from China, Hong Kong and South Africa believe the political conditions criticized by post-colonialism haven't just "receded, but in many ways are even further entrenched under the machinery of globalization."

While the diverse multi-media works don't always meld into a coherent whole, the Triennial's theme is lent resonance by being held in Guangzhou, formerly called Canton -- a region long known for its autonomous spirit, past revolutionary activity, migrant population and for being an important portal to the West.

"Besides being the first place to establish links to the West in the 18th century, after the Cultural Revolution, it (Guangzhou) has been an experimental city for China," Gao Shiming, the Triennial's energetic young curator told Reuters.

"Guangdong has always been a Chinese cultural and political frontier, this is what I consider to be significant."


<p>Video and installation by artists Chen Tong and Jean-Philippe Toussaint are displayed at the Guangzhou Museum of Art in southern China in this September 19, 2008 handout photo. REUTERS/Guangdong Museum of Art/Handout</p>