A letter to young artists from a gallerist

To young people with dreams of becoming artists.

As a gallery operator, I see many young people wholeheartedly throwing themselves into art. This passion is commendable, but there is also a lot of blind optimism and the naïve belief that artistic creation is a relaxed and romantic affair. Some people approach it with a playboy attitude. I think that perhaps there is a need to ‘strike the mountain to shake the tiger’, to give some honest advice and sound a warning from the gallery’s perspective.

These times have given people an illusion, that art is an enviable, star-studded profession: fancy cars, beautiful women, raucous parties, elite status, staking out the front lines of fashion. But this is all an illusion. Artists take a risky gamble by subjecting themselves to bitter struggles for the first half of their lives. The majority of famous artists spent their youths honing their artistic skills under Dickensian conditions, only reaching a turning point in middle age. Qi Baishi, who only fully matured in his later years, spent the first fifty years of his life languishing in his hometown. When De Kooning immigrated to America, he made his living as a house painter, carpenter and mural painter, and didn’t get his first opportunity to take part in a gallery exhibition until the age of thirty eight. The life of the artist is also often accompanied by inordinate suffering: when Joseph Bueys was 22, his plane was shot down over the Soviet Union and he barely escaped with his life. Chinese performance artist Datong Dazhang still isn’t very well known today. He lived in a trash-covered makeshift hut and committed suicide in 2000 as his last work of performance art. For an artist to make a truly original creation requires persistent toil and effort. We live in an era of hedonist pursuits, and even intellectuals are faced with worldly temptations. In his book One-Dimensional Man, Herbert Marcuse writes, “when the working class yearns for the luxuries of the bourgeoisie, they no longer have the will to dig the grave of capitalism.” You can stand the luxuries of your contemporaries, but can you face profound ideas in the grips of suffering?



We see a lot of work by young artists, and we often discover the same weaknesses: shallow, clichéd themes, affected sentiments and imitative styles. I’d advise young artists to consider the following two points. First, contemporaneity and timelessness; think about how you’ll view your own art work in ten years time. When the fashionable images recede like the tides, will they expose weak and naïve thinking? The hearts of brilliant artists are full of a sense of history; their works powerfully grasp the passions of the moment while resisting the corrosive effects of time. Song dynasty painter Fan Kuan’s Traveling Amid Streams and Mountains still has the power to move us today. The second point is individuality and commonality; aside from expressing spiritual individuality, does your work bring any hope of salvation to the cultural matrix? Good artists use deep individual marks to express universal spiritual sentiments, touching on the pains of their era, just as Francis Bacon’s paintings touched directly on the disintegration of faith after World War II and a Europe disillusioned with civilization, and Xu Bing’s dissection and rearrangement of Chinese words implied doubts about cultural traditions.

Many young artists want to know the standards we use in selecting young artists to work with: extraordinary ideas built upon a foundation of a unique spiritual world, tenacity driven by an overpowering curiosity about the unknown realms of the soul. As a gallery we must be responsible to the collectors. If only a few years after an artwork is collected, the artist gives up on creating, the gallery loses the trust of its clients. For this reason, we will observe a young artist’s creative abilities and attitudes over time. Many artists collapse of their own accord before the observation period is complete.

Describing the powerful creative spirit that drives the artist, Wu Guanzhong drew an analogy with grass, which “continues to grow, even when you water it with boiling water.” If your passion for art refuses to be extinguished in the face of cruel reality, please continue your adventure. ‘Striking the mountain to shake the tiger’ will only scare off the opportunistic little monkeys and the jumpy mountain goats. The real tigers will roar in the end. My suggestion is to find a job that allows you to meet your needs and freely control your time, set a long-term creative plan and prepare for a lasting battle fraught with setbacks. We will passionately and wisely support you. Not only is the future in your hands; the honor and dignity of the gallery depends on you as well.

Jessica Zhang, Director, Amelie Gallery
798 Art District, Beijing, 2010 (year of the tiger)

Striking the Mountain to Shock the Tiger
An Exhibition Surveying the Creative Ecosystem for Contemporary Chinese Young Artist Groups
Amelie Gallery, Beijing, China
August 21st-Octorber 13th, 2010
Opening Reception: August 21s, 15:00pm

Curator: Tony Chang

For each generation of artists, the social environment in which they live and create has a profound effect on the development of their art. The curatorial concept behind Striking the Mountain to Shock the Tiger is sociological, using interviews and surveys of nearly one hundred artists born in the 1970s and 80s to observe the living and creative conditions of young artists and the potential effects of the current art ecosystem on future changes in art and the development of artists. Using the creative subject key words gleaned from the surveys as a core set of coordinates, Striking the Mountain to Shock the Tiger seeks out a spiritual anchor in the flourishing, diverse practices of cutting-edge art. The artistic styles of the various participant artists vary widely, but all are brimming with talent and personality. The document segment of this exhibition consists of the artists stories of how they make a living, highlighting the struggle and perseverance involved in their delicate walk between art and existence.

Artists of the 85 New Wave such as Fang Lijun lived alongside peasants in such places as Beijing East Village and the Summer Palace Artists Village, later moving to places such as Huajiadi and Song Zhuang; they drifted about with the status of wandering migrants, unrecognized by society. Their weakened, scattered state worked in tandem with the mission of social criticism, contributing to the formation of regional or conceptual groups. The artists pooled their meager resources and together they pushed art to a high point in the 1990s. The local art market was lacking at the time, and artists would sit dejectedly in their studios waiting for the occasional visit of a foreign art novelty seeker or the chance to hold an exhibition in a foreign embassy. The intolerant social mainstream and market environment to a certain extent shaped the trend of early avant-garde art's western orientation. Attention from abroad opened a window for survival to the nascent, struggling contemporary Chinese art scene, catalyzing today's prosperity and sowing the seeds for the loss of localized discourse authority for Chinese contemporary art.

Yang Dazhi, Huang Kai, Chen Maling, Chen Yuwen, Du Yan, Li Yazhang,Meng Xianmin, Sun Ying, Wei Lu, Zhao Tianyang, Yang Zhengou, Yuan Jia, Zhang Chunying, Zhang Hui, Zheng Yuemei

The fate of artists born in the 1970s and 80s is perhaps much better: beginning in 2000, the domestic art market started to gradually expand, and artists experienced from tolerance to acceptance and then admiration from society. The bias among the general populace is that artists are part of a free group that can bask in the glow of stardom and personal wealth, but aside from a minority of artists who became famous early on, most artists must face the spiritual perplexities of individual artistic exploration and the hardships of making a living. The individualization of creative concepts has gone hand in hand with the upheaval of the demolition of art districts, and these artists have grown more detached from their peers. They face the choices of subsistence and artistic direction alone.

Through the ages, the success of most Chinese artists was built on a foundation of a supportive society. For instance, the palace courtyard painting of the Song dynasty was promoted by the emperor, and behind the rise of literati painting was the decision by the Mongolian rulers of the Yuan dynasty to push scholars and intellectuals out into the field. For contemporary art, the targets of the spiritual dilemmas and explorations of the soul transcended the esthetic range of modernism. For young Chinese artists, people their age who share a spiritual resonance with them are still chasing the path to affluence, and have yet to become patrons of cutting-edge art, while older collectors are still steeped in sentiment for realism and esthetics. These factors have come together to stunt the market for cutting-edge artistic exploration. In nearly three decades since the 85 New Wave, the pioneers of avant-garde art have only sparked a change in esthetic appreciation methods, and the path to acceptance in society and the market for contemporary art is still a long one. Growing up with this dilemma, young artists will need spiritual tenacity and improvements in the societal and market-based support systems if contemporary art is to find stable development.

Making Social Progress by Art

What's on their Minds?
Keywords Defining the Subject Matters of Chinese Young Artists' Artistic Practice
Based on a survey results submitted by around 100 artists born in 1970s and 1980s.

Discovery-Heart-Spirit-Soul- Life-Desire-Human Nature-Landscape-Pain-Inanity-Struggle-femininity-Element-Automobile-Self-Studies of Chinese Ancient Civilization-Vision-Delight & Fan-Quality-Absurdity-Fashion-Collaboration-Design-Society-Times-Youthfulness-Memory-History-Realism-Imagery-Ethereal-Hobby-Imagination-Animals-Fantasy-City-Sexuality-Existence-Relationship-Space-Night-Thinking-Concept-New Humanism-Chineseness-Times-Narration-Symbolism-Rules of Universe-Retro Science Fiction-Sentimental-Daily Life-Cultural Responsibilities-Contemporary Aesthetics-Spritual Culture-Recollections of Childhood-Implication of Presence-Escapism-Environmental Protection-Tastes of Life-Material-Experiment -Human Natural-Science-Power of Life

My Oath by Yang Dazhi, Oil on Canvas, 170x120cm,2010

Black Swans by Yang Zhenou, Oil on Canvas, 100x100cm

In Love of Fashion by Zhao Tianyang,200x250cm.Mixed Medium

by Wei Lu, Oil on Canvas, 120x80cm
Drama on Paper-Unconcealed State-Humanities Caring-Personal Emotion-Experience of Growing Up-ReReading of Traditional Imageries-Landscape Extended from Old Photography-Attempt of Integrated Media-Writing & Imagery-Confrontation to Real Life-Angle of Sociology-Problems of History & Society -Feeling of Living Situation-Mental State of Youth-Feeling for Life-Modernization of Traditional Painting-Between Resemblance & Dissimilarity-Visual Evidence of Emotional Moments-Constancy & Samsara of Life-Finding Identity-Reflection of Contemporary Culture-The Feeling of Diary Life-Women's Definition & her New Existence-Heart Narration-Fairytale-Beautiful Girls- Independence-Meditations of Self Awareness

Hutong Play Series by Huang Kai, Engraving on Woodblock, Painted with Acrylic

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Amelie Gallery
798 Art District,
No.2 Jiu Xian Qiao Rd., Chao Yang District, Beijing, China.
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