Clearly, another cultural revolution is afoot in this country of 1.8 billion people. Awakening from the slumber of decades of isolation and cultural levelling, communist China is quickly positioning itself as a leader in artistic and cultural worlds that are anything but egalitarian. As recently as a decade ago, the idea of a Chinese art boom would have been unlikely at best. Now it's a strange reality, and an increasingly profitable one. Chinese artists are learning that the road to the Western subconscious runs through the wallet.
Hopefully, it's obvious is that this artistic flourishing is the result, first and foremost of compelling work. Chinese art is booming because so much of it is startling, stunning, and attention-grabbing. And for every great artist that I've highlighted here, there are a dozen that I've left out. Great art calls itself out and demands to be discovered.
It is less clear what role the Chinese government's loosened restrictions play in all of this. Will the government crack down yet again on art, or give up entirely to focus on restricting the Internet? Does the flourishing art scene serve state purposes by drawing attention away from China's dismal human rights record and environmental devastation? Does the art call attention to the problems in modern Chinese society, or palliate movements towards improving them? Ultimately, I think the question is whether there could be a totalitarian country that tolerated complete free speech, and if not, why not?
And what is the relationship between culture and capital? It seems a bit ironic that artists who are so often ambivalent, if not critical, about the effects that global capitalism is having on Chinese culture are, themselves, flourishing largely because of global capital. Contemporary Chinese art is often sharply critical of state communism, while being created under state communism, and critical of capitalism, while being fueled by an international art market. It stands outside of East and West in this regard and reveals a bit of how the two worlds see one another. Here is the real irony though for the time being, it is global capital, and not the communist revolution, that is allowing a thousand flowers to bloom.