ShanghART Gallery is honored to announce that “Wang Youshen: Codes of Culture” opens at Beijing Inside-Out Art Museum on 26 March. The exhibition brings to the public for the first time the overall body of artistic experiments and practice of Wang Youshen, an oeuvre spanning more than three decades. The exhibition approaches Wang’s artistic career from two perspectives: “From the Removal of Meaning to Meaninglessness” and “From Image Processing to Image Disintegration.” It aims at presenting a detailed and in-depth investigation into Wang's practice. This exhibition is a much-needed mid-career retrospective of the artist.
In 1988, Wang Youshen graduated from the Central Academy of Fine Arts with a degree in Comic Drawing. Right after that, he got a job at Beijing Youth Daily. The newspaper publisher has played a key role at the heart of press reform in the wake of the furthering of Reform and Opening-up policy. Since the 1990s, the values upheld by the paper, the establishment of its institutional structure, as well as its editorial content have echoed the open and innovative spirit of the time. Wang Youshen was deeply involved and became an experienced professional in the media industry. In the meantime, his art practice ran in parallel with his work at Beijing Youth Daily. In both, he’s stayed acutely alert to the trajectory of individual lives and the instantaneous changes of the society, which he’s captured and questioned in his artworks. It’s no surprise that Wang Youshen considers art as a means to record and reflect on the time he’s lived in and its people.
In the early 1990s, on one hand, the renewal of artistic mediums was considered a signature of being contemporary and global by the Chinese art community. In practice, it was translated into a phenomenon in which a certain medium such as painting was considered a lesser form while installation and video for example, were considered a more advanced form. On the other hand, the artistic perspective on the society and life was leveled back to one’s immediate surroundings and individual beings in one’s life, as opposed to the heavy metaphysical tendency in thinking of the 1980s. Wang Youshen was a member and a promotor of the so-called “New Generation” (Xinshengdai) artists in Beijing at that time.
Mass media, popular culture, and print culture were among the cultural issues that received considerable attention in the 1990s. Through marketization, mass media were given a greater degree of freedom and occupied a significant place in the space of social discourse. Under the spotlight of the media, many social phenomena were reported and discussed, and in turn, acquired cultural significance. Wang's post at the Beijing Youth Daily gave him a practical platform with leeway for proactive actions. Not only did he bring coverage of contemporary art and conceptual art practices into the pages of the paper, hence giving them greater visibility. He also continuously engaged with the media industry's relation to the landscape of social life in his artworks. While being the platform for his presswork and creative practice, Beijing Youth Daily provided first-hand sources for his artworks as an example of the media industry. This has cultivated a relationship between his works and the urban life and popular culture since the 1990s that is closer than “close proximity (Jinjuli).”
Since the 1990s, Wang's artistic career has had many cross-overs with the globalization of Chinese art. He has exhibited multiple times in Western Europe, North America, and South America. The exhibitions were mostly group and thematic shows about China. Nonetheless, due to his inclination towards specific issues and personal experience, his works have distinguished themselves from those artworks by Chinese artists of this period featuring solidified superficial icons, repeatedly interpreted by cold-war ideologies in the early 1990s. Subsequently, his works could not be as easily consumed by the art market and mass media. Historically intertwined yet undogmatic, the art practice of Wang Youshen should be of particular interest to serious art historians and institutions in their efforts to write and understand contemporary Chinese art history.
Since the organization of the exhibition “Discordant Harmony” in 2017, the Inside-Out Art Museum has launched a research on the 1990s through studies of specific regions and artists. This exhibition on Wang Youshen is part of such a historical research and is curated by Carol Yinghua Lu, art historian and director of the museum. As studies of individual cases can lead to the formation of laws, thoughtful individual case studies will assist us in loosening, or even subverting existing historical impressions and narratives. We can then perhaps develop a more truthful and nuanced understanding and narration of our own via the vein of contemporary culture and thinking in China.
Related Artists: WANG YOUSHEN 王友身