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1989
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Two Gunshots: The Curtain Call of the New Wave in Art!

By Li XianTing
Translated from the Chinese by Archibald Mckenzie


Speaking on the basis of its lack of an avant-garde directing theory, the China/Avant-Garde Exhibition does not have an avant-garde character.

The frame of reference for this conclusion is not Western contemporary art at all, but rather the avant-garde character shown by the New Wave in art with respect to the new and old traditions of China. It is in this sense that the China/Avant-Garde Exhibition has lost the impulse of the New Wave of 1985, nor has it raised any foreseeable prospect of mastery of the development of present contemporary art. Therefore the quality of the grand exhibition is rather one of a summarizing retrospective – and the urge towards retrospection announces that in China’s contemporary art there has been lost a certain attitude of vitality. Moreover nobody, from the curators to the exhibitors, has shrunk from making compromises in order to enter into the conditions of the highest temple of art in China, thus reflecting a species of relatively traditional mentality. One particularly important phenomenon of this exhibition has been that not a few of the important players of the New Wave of ’85 are already displaying in their recent works the traces of a decline in their creative power. The sound of two gunshots has thus become the curtain call of the New Wave.

Tang Song and Xiao Lu’s two gunshots have pushed the “critical point” of the New Wave another step forward. The “critical point” is the maximum range of the new concepts and new patterns that the avant-garde artists have sought to impose on society. In itself this is a modern spirit, and it is also a phenomenon unique to modern Chinese art. From the point of view of taking and testing an attitude to society, two gunshots made the majority of the works seem excessively pedantic or sentimental in character. Performance has been called inseparable from art, from the meaning that art captures, and from the circumstances and time in which it belongs. 1. The Beijing setting, the important public occasion, a sensitive exhibition – these give the sound of gunfire its shock value. In this sense, the entire exhibition has been turned into a detail of Tang Song and Xiao Lu’s work. 2. That the gunshot attack was directed at the artist’s own work at an art exhibition is one of the points of difference between performance art and a banal act of destruction. 3. This was nevertheless very dangerous: to some degree it took meticulous planning to occupy the zone between legal and illegal. According to information provided by the creators, the occurrence, process and result of the incident all took place more or less as planned. This meticulous planning manifests a resourcefulness which contemporary art has been most particular about ever since Duchamps. 4. Some people have had something to say about the artists’ being offspring of high-ranking cadres: if they had been ordinary people things would have been different. This in itself is exactly one of the premises of the incident. At the same time it has brought out an even deeper meaning, which is that the artistic character of the incident resides in its demonstration of the degree of elasticity of the Chinese legal system. It is also where the artists’ courage and deep perspicacity lie. The two gunshots mark the first time the Chinese avant-garde has explicitly made the resourcefulness of living people an artistic pursuit. They blend this kind of lived experience with the exposition of the most sensitive issues in society into one, at the same time announcing the unique character of Chinese avant-garde art.

 
“Fine Arts in China” published in its eleventh issue of 1989