Huang Rui, Space structure, 1979
• Scar Painting emerges as a force in the scene.
• The 'father of modern painting' Wu Guanzhong has his first major solo show at the National Art Museum of China.
Wu Guanzhong, Hometown Morning, 1960
• Rustic Realism becomes popular. New Chinese Cinema filmmakers, like Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou, find influence in the style.
The Second Star Exhibition debuts at the National Art Museum of China, seemingly signifying approval from the men at the top – or at least someone who makes big decisions in power.
Members of the Star Group in 1980. Photo: Helmut Opletal
The Government's Anti-Spiritual Pollution Campaign is launched to counteract Western influences. Big thumbs down from the avant-garde, who cherish abstraction and art for art's sake.
The National Times, January 13-19, 1984
The Young Art of Progressive China exhibit in Beijing embodies the '85 New Wave Movement. Anti-Spiritual Pollution Campaign ends, avant-garde groups flourish across the country.
Lu Chenggang, 喜上梅梢 (Lit: Joyfulness), 1985
Emergence of the Xiamen Dada group when ready-made art is exhibited for the first time in China. Founder Huang Yong Ping says it's like Dada remixed with Zen (or 'with Chinese characteristics', hmm?).
Huang Yong Ping, Is this a self-portrait or Da Vinci or the Mona Lisa?, 1986-7
First solo installation exhibit of Xu Bing in Beijing. Xu’s piece Book from the Sky features traditional-style books and scrolls, however the thousands of 'Chinese' characters are meaningless.
Xu Bing, Book from the Sky, 1987-91
First comprehensive show of avant-garde art, China/Avant-garde, is exhibited in the capital, featuring 186 artists, but is then quickly shut down. Also, the New Generation group exhibition opens at the China Museum of History. It showcases New Generation art, an early subset of Cynical Realism.
Geng Jianyi, The Second State (I-III), 1987
• Mass Consumption – a series of rock music, painting and fashion – is organised by The New History Group to be held at the McDonald's in Wangfujing. Authorities stop it before it happens, but it's still conceptually important as it's the first time the avant-garde takes consumerism and materialism as themes.
• The Road to the East, curated by Li Xianting, debuts at the 45th Venice Biennale – the first time Chinese avant-garde artists have been shown in such a prestigious Western setting. Includes Wang Guangyi and Zhang Peili.
Wang Guanyi, Great Criticism: Coca Cola, 1991-94
• First Shanghai Biennale. Alternative exhibit F**k Off! organised by artists excluded from Biennale.
• Yue Minjun shoots to fame after 1999’s Venice Biennale and has his first solo show presented in London.
Yue Minjun, Untitled, 1998
Alors la Chine? (Well then, China?) debuts at Paris' Centre Georges Pompidou as the first officially sponsored exhibition of Chinese art abroad. Features work of over 50 well-known Chinese artists.
Liu Xiaodong, Watching, 2000
An ink painting by modern painter Qi Baishi tops the list of most expensive paintings sold in 2011. At 57.2 million USD, Qi’s piece beats out those of Western luminaries like Picasso and Warhol.
Qi Baishi, Eagle Standing on a Pine Tree, 1946
Pace Beijing, Galleria Continua and Tang Contemporary Art Center present Unlived by What is Seen, an ambitious exhibition reflecting the future direction of contemporary art in China.
Unlived by What is Seen. Image: Pace Beijing
Know the movements
• New Realistic Painting The early beginnings of the post-Revolution avant-garde movement, includes major subset movements like Scar Painting, the name of which references the emotional wounds that the Cultural Revolution caused in its people, and Rustic Realism.
• '85 New Wave Movement The umbrella term for the collective efforts of 75-plus artist organizations that arose in the late 1980s to advance the cause of avant-garde art.
• Cynical Realism is one of the two most prominent movements in post-80s contemporary Chinese art. Emerging at the end of the '80s and reached its peak in the early '90s. It's typified by disenchantment with political and artist utopias. Some of the highest earners in art, like Zhang Xiaogang and Yue Minjue, are of this school.
• Political Pop is China’s riff on Britain's Pop Art from the '60s, remixing and blending the power of propaganda and advertising. Notable names include Li Shan and Yu Youhan.
Yu Youhan (of Political Pop movement), Untitled (Mao/Marilyn), 2005
Drop a big name
Big shot Wang Guangyi
Why Blending propaganda and corporate logos; he shaped the scene.
Who A leader of the Political Pop.
Know these groups
• Stars Art Group Primarily self-taught artists and the first influential avant-garde group. Includes Ai Weiwei and Li Shuang.
• No Name Group Noted for experimentation with turn-of-the-century styles like Impressionism at a time ('60s-'70s) when this was unacceptable in China.
• Northern Art Group Championed the 'rational' trend of the '85 New Wave Movement. Paintings had a solemn atmosphere. Influenced by German philosophy.
• Xiamen Dada Based out of Xiamen, these artists protested socialist realism by way of absurdism. Inspired by early 20th-century Dadaism and Chan Buddhism.
Ma Kelu (of No Name Group), Setting Sun at Meridian Gate, 1972