The environs of 798 tell as much about the state of Chinese Contemporary Art as anything actually on display inside its galleries. Everything comfortable and familiar has been jackhammered to oblivion, to make way for international-five-star-luxury-standard. It’s a cultural civil war, really, with platoons of grim workers hunkered down in long ditches, and shell-shocked, dusty visitors scrambling over heaped dirt, menaced by bulldozers and heedlessly backing dump trucks.
Well, to be reborn one must first destroy a world, and in this respect Chinese art is making a good breast of it. China art’s young Turks are as embarrassed of dancing Mao’s and communist satire as the satirists were of propaganda posters. Currently in the galleries there is a rising tide of Hentai-inspired frippery, cutesy canvas characters with massive lambent eyes and 3 to 1 head/body ratios, the kind of thing which Chuppies* with stuffed animals in the rear window of their VW Polos view and think, “Aha! I knew my childish tastes harbored a deeper sensibility.”But any ‘new’ movement in Chinese art is subject to the gauntlet of ten thousand imitators, and this too shall pass.
Fan Jia is young enough to be a product of the one-child policy, which robbed so many of childhood playmates and free time that they cling to cute as a drowning man clings to flotsam. No doubt he spent his first two decades in a world where schoolmates, teachers, and Japanese-style comic books loomed much larger than nature’s splendor. Despite all this, he paints from a refreshing perspective of reverse myopia, in which humans and their self-important discontents are accorded their due insignificance.
Even more refreshing is the neo-classical style Fan Jia employs, an overdue homage to renaissance masters who aimed for reverent faithfulness to the forms they depicted, rather than seeing the world as a frumpy housewife to be made-over by smug abstraction.
While a lot of modern art profits from footnotes, explaining that it is not at all self-indulgent crap but rather a profound symbol for our times, the following works do not. They are by no means transparent, either; there is much on Fan Jia’s canvases to wonder at, but always with the easy conviction that the artist is tapped into some source we can all drink from, with no cloying aftertaste or artificial flavoring.
Fan Jia is currently exhibiting at 798’s Shinshan Gallery
Visit Fan Jia’s blog