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Hitting the Right Tone – Martin Boyce Collaborates with Luxelakes A4 Museum

Cross-cultural art exhibition, like any form of cultural communication, can be a minefield of misunderstanding. Even with rosters of significant in-demand artists, too often galleries at China’s international art fairs can be seen presenting contemporary Chinoiserie or Cynical Realism, under the assumption that this is what the Chinese market wants.

Now the market is starting to push back. Over in Hong Kong, there was a mixed response to White Cube’s Anslem Kiefer exhibition. Now, Kiefer is a legend in mainland China. In fact, there is one notable Chinese painter who has seemingly built an entire career around thinly-veiled imitations of Kiefer’s work. Yet the choice of focusing the Hong Kong exhibition through the prism of Mao, titling the show Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom (and including paintings of the Chairman, hand outstretched in a field of sunflowers) caused some disquiet on Chinese social media platform Weibo. Even Cynical Realist Zhang Xiaogang, (an art-fair darling) commented: “Mao and ‘Hundred Flowers’—why repaint this topic? Is this done specifically for the Chinese market?”

There seems to be a collective sense that, unless particularly sophisticated, these attempts to include “Chinese content” whether traditional Chinese culture or “red” imagery detracts from the growing sophistication of the Chinese audience.

In Chengdu, in South-West China, Martin Boyce’s “Hanging Garden”, makes for an interesting case study, in terms of how to bridge a cultural gap successfully. Boyce’s practice of using different techniques, staining, oxidization and merely leaving objects out in the rain, to let the elements “work their magic”, is somewhat novel in China. In addition, he has a kind of simultaneous dialogue (and critique) with the history of modern design in the West, while exploring the spatial dynamics of Chinese painting and Chinese gardens. Thus a visitor walking into the exhibition, might notice some reflections of local artistic traditions but seen through a very abstract lens.