Dressed in a chunky fur coat and wearing a pair of trendy black round glasses, his flamboyant appearance would capture anyone’s sight, even in the swanky Mitte. It was -3C degrees today in Berlin, and I braved the cold to visit the Berlin-based Russian Avant-garde artist Anatoly Shuravlev’s home studio. Located not far from Ai Weiwei’s studio and a renowned Swiss art collector’s Berlin space, Anatoly’s space was almost filled entirely with his art collection and some of his more recent works.
Anatoly’s close association with the Chinese art scene as a result of his gallerist Urs Meille - represents some established Chinese artists- and my recent art project in China, our discussion inadvertently revolved around Chinese contemporary art. Anatoly often asked his friend’s circle: “what makes up the so-called Chinese contemporary art.” He stressed that there was no distinction or clear categorisation of contemporary Chinese art, unlike its Russian counterpart. It would come as no surprise that he also diverted the question to me, something which had not come across my mind for a long while, especially when I bustled about realising my first art project in China. Then my comment “surprised” Anatoly when I told him that renowned Chinese artists like Ai Weiwei, Zhang Xiaogang, or Chen Danqing to name a few -artists born after the 50s and before the 70s who lived abroad- are not the so-called Chinese contemporary artist, but rather a school of the Chinese Avant-garde. Artists of my generation -those born after the 1980s- represented the Chinese art now. Similar to its Russian counterpart, the Chinese Avant-gardes too, undergone a wave of art movement addressing mostly political and social issues. Anatoly pointed out that my view was vague and suggested that I shall dive deeper into explaining my perspective, though I was not convinced that I was able to undertake such task of categorising Chinese contemporary art history.
For me, Chinese contemporary art is a resistance to the Avant-gardes, where it alienates itself from the politically or socially-oriented art and comes from a place where it reflects the artist’s own thought and interpretation of their surroundings, society and the world at large in the millennium. It is something very personal yet universal.