Contemporary Chinese Art
In the early 1960’s, the arts propaganda focused on building the “new” country of China. In 1966, Mao Zedong, commonly referred as Chairman Mao, started the Cultural Revolution to eliminate his reformist rivals and set the country back on a strict communist path. Art in Mao’s time consisted of many Mao portraits and propaganda posters. These art works showed Mao smiling and standing before happy peasants and factory workers. As seen in the painting “Chairman Mao inspects the Guangdong countryside” by Chen Yanning, the admiration in the faces of the people was apparent. Mao’s flesh is painted in red and other warm tones. His face is also smooth and luminescent. Mao's portrait is hung in almost every shop, house and major public areas in China.
During the Cultural Revolution, Chinese artists always portrayed Mao as a hero or a positive figure. But there were also paintings of military soldiers that had depressing and almost frightened facial expressions because of their heavy military responsibilities. A painting that depicts this is “Why” by Gao Xiaohua, which was made in the late ‘70s. During the Cultural Revolution, art schools were closed down and major art exhibitions were removed. However, amateur art still continued to grow throughout that time.
Chinese artists began to experiment with Western techniques and bold political themes. Some began to address the damage done by the Cultural Revolution. These artists also used rustic realism and humanistic concerns to critique society. In 1976, Mao died. After the death of Mao and the end of the Cultural Revolution, Socialist Realism Art lessened but did not completely disappear. Wang Guangyi is an artist known for being a leader of the new art movement and for his series of paintings which used images of propaganda from the Cultural Revolution. The “Great Criticism” series combined both the Chinese Cultural Revolution and American pop art.