Chinese Contemporary Art in the Expanded Field

Conventional narratives about the explosion of Chinese contemporary art on the global stage frame it as the rescue of oppressed artists by the West, a reversal of the socialist art system, or a sign of China’s emerging cultural power. Ethnographic attention to the cultural encounters and negotiations that shaped artists’ lives and work as they adapted to conditions of cultural production in the global city reveals a more complex picture. A feminist analytic highlights the contradictions of this emerging art world, the interlocking power relations through which artists gain recognition, and the work of art as a meditation on what is made ephemeral by monumental visions. This introductory chapter examines the historical conditions that shaped art production in the new millennium, including post-1989 exhibition politics and experimental art practice. It argues for feminist art as an epistemological field of inquiry and the centrality of gender in worldings—understandings of the world made visible by the image.