China’s “reform and opening up” period has witnessed a booming Chinese contemporary art scene, which has steadily adopted artistic genres and techniques from the West. But heavy foreign influence has not led artists to abandon the distinctive features of Chinese art; rather, it has inspired a revival of its unique characteristics. Xu Bing, Fan Di’an, and other leading Chinese artists of the day have immersed themselves in multicultural environments throughout their careers, infusing their artwork with related themes. Xu Bing has experimented with innovative methods of expression that reflect his personal philosophical journey, his exposure to diverse viewpoints, and his pursuit of common bonds across cultures. Fan Di’an has advanced global recognition of Chinese avant-garde artists in various regions and across different styles. Together, these two artists have greatly enriched international understanding of this rapidly changing country.
On August 2, the John L. Thornton China Center at Brookings hosted these two distinguished pioneers of Chinese contemporary art for a discussion on how global and local forces influence artwork in China and how art reflects the views and ideas of Chinese society. Following presentations by Xu and Fan, Jan Stuart, who has worked with both artists at the British Museum and is currently the curator of Asian art at the Freer and Sackler Museums, provided a commentary on their remarks. Cheng Li, director and senior fellow of the China Center, then moderated a conversation with the group and took questions from the audience.