The Chinese contemporary art scene has become increasingly international, with renowned artists like Cao Fei, Miao Ying and Cheng Ran successfully working and exhibiting in the US and Europe. At home in China, the K11 Art Foundation supports the development of Chinese artists and its founder Adrian Cheng – through his connections to leading global art institutions – brings young Chinese artists to the international stage.
In 2015, Cheng started an ongoing research partnership with New York’s MoMA PS1 (one of the world’s most important institutions for modern art) to examine ways in which art is changing in the digital era in China and the West.
At the recent Art Basel, K11 and PS1 co-presented their first exhibition in Hong Kong at K11. .com/.cn showcases artistic practices in China and the West that are influenced by the internet and our digital ecosystems. Some of the works by Chinese and Western artists like Cao Fei, DIS, Laura Owens, Wang Xin and Miao Ying reflect artists’ use of different media platforms like Google and Facebook in the West and Weibo and WeChat in China.
Amuse caught up with Klaus Biesenbach, director of MoMA PS1 and co-curator of .com/.cn in Hong Kong.
How did you start working on this project?
Three years ago we had this very productive lunch. Adrian Cheng and I decided to start a research initiative. Since then, we have done several projects: A Cao Fei exhibition in New York, many studio visits and last year it became clear that we would do something for K11. We worked very closely with the artists in China to get all the artworks for this show together.
What are the main differences between .com and .cn?
When I do studio visits I always ask which website an artist uses. I always have the same questions like “Who’s the artist you are looking up to?” or “What websites you are using?” There’s a disconnect between artists that cannot so easily go on Facebook, Google or Instagram from here. There is a fascination to these social media outlets and there is also the Chinese version of these outlets. For example, there’s Weibo and WeChat. For us it became clear that there’s not just one world wide web, it’s world wide webs!
How do the artists work with their different world wide webs?
The works of Lin Ke and Li Ming for example are about the fact that the internet as we see it is a tool for artists, but it’s not a medium by itself. All of the works by the Chinese and the western artists in our show are only possible because the internet exists, either as a topic or a way how to get to certain results. That’s an interesting way of seeing the exhibition because it’s painting, sculpture, installation, photography and video. It’s not like a bunch of things on a website.
Do Chinese artists work differently than Western artists?
Maybe. We had this meeting and the artist Lin Ke opened his laptop. He explained what you see on his laptop, but we didn’t see what was on his computer screen. So it’s a completely closed circuit. For me it was really interesting because I thought that’s perhaps how you work because you are not reaching out, because you are not free, you can’t go on Google and spread the word on Instagram or Facebook. He was smart and said: “No no, it’s actually the opposite! You think you [in the West] are spreading, but in fact Facebook and Instagram are ways on how to identify the most similar to yourself. So you are broadcasting to yourself, like a mirror. You are just looking for the most likes. It looks like the world has just one opinion”. We didn’t look for political merits but every good work of art is political.
Why does China’s young art scene open itself so much to the Western world? And also the Western world to China?
I think that emerging artists, by nature, are often very curious and investigate what artists in older generations have done and what other artists are doing. The openness to the Western art world is just one aspect of this. As a curator I can only speak for myself, but I’m very open to learning more about China’s art world.
How do you assess the future of contemporary Chinese media art?
For me, there is actually no contemporary Chinese media art, there is only contemporary art. We are witnessing right now a very active, innovative scene that has many emerging artists creating, anticipating, and visualising new perspectives on how we look at the world. It is incredibly intriguing that they all live in China, where the world seems to change at an incredibly fast pace.
The K11 pop-up gallery is located at Cosco Tower, 33 Wing Lok Street, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong. .com/.cn is open until 30 April.
Main image: Laura Owens, ‘Untitled’, glazed porcelain, dimensions variable, 2015. Courtesy of the Artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York/Rome. Private Collection