Chinese artists surprise with bold new work at the Hayward

Sep 11, 2012

Extravaganza of contemporary Chinese work is far more exciting than the usual state-sponsored art

Hayward Gallery

What you need to know
After some critics expressed disappointment at its recent Invisible art show, the Hayward gallery on the South Bank has received close to universal praise for its extravaganza of contemporary Chinese performance installation art, from 1993 to the present.

The exhibition, titled Art of Change: New Directions from China, shows the work of nine different artists. It includes a person floating above the gallery floor, sculptures that are tossed in the air and structures made by live silk worms.

Runs until 9 December.
What the critics like
This exciting selection represents a darker, more fascinating side to Chinese contemporary art than the more familiar state-sponsored fare, says Waldemar Januszczak in The Sunday Times. These works exist in an ambiguous creative arena "between art and life, mystery and clarity, sense and nonsense". This is "secretive art" that "works with hints and insinuations that silkworm their way into your imagination".
Almost every work in Art of Change has the force of an encounter, says Laura Cumming in The Guardian. There's a hyper-real triceratops staring with beady eyes, the "enthralling" sight and sound of silkworms at work, and exhibits of living people. Much of the work is disorienting, strange and unfamiliar, but it is "uniformly strong".  
It may be useful to visit this show twice, once to learn about the historical background of the work, and then once again to forget it, says Charles Darwent in The Independent. If you weren't constantly reminded that the art here is Chinese it would still be "extraordinarily good". There is "a maturity and meticulousness" to much of the work "that is missing in its British equivalent".
What they don't like
A lack of information frustrates the visitor's desire to make sense of some of the key exhibits, says Sarah Kent on The Artsdek. "If you want to engage with the work properly, you need help" – and although curators have supplied a digital archive of recent developments in Chinese art, exploring it is "at odds" with the immediacy of many of the exhibits.

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