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December 11, 2011

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Cutting out guanxi in art shows

MANY people in China's art world say it's who you know or who your father is that determines whether a young artist's work is selected for exhibition - unless he or she is a towering genius.

With that criticism of favoritism, guanxi and veiled selection in mind, Mingtai Culture & Art Co Ltd and China Contemporary Art Document Center have put together a very different national exhibition of young artists' work.

The result is a popular four-day multi-genre show that opens today in Shanghai at the Shanghai Urban Sculpture Center. It runs through Wednesday. Shanghai is the third stop after Beijing and Guangzhou, both unusually well attended for a youth art show.

Three hundred paintings, sculpture, video and other works by 100 young artists from around China are on exhibit.

Young artists submitted their own work directly or their works were recommended by critics. There was some preliminary judging to eliminate works. Then an academic committee of 11 members selected the 100 artists in a public event, "which guarantees fairness to each participant," says Peng Wei, a staff member of the organizer.

According to him, all the jury members consisting of famous curators, artists and critics received a PPT document containing all the submitted works. A work was eliminated only after more than half the jury members voted against it.

There were several rounds of the elimination procedure until the final result.

This is a new practice increasingly adopted by art competitions around China, while more often at such an art contest or a selection for an art exhibition, a competitor's work is outed when only one jury panel member votes against it.

The seeming transparency is in response to criticism that guanxi or personal relations play too important a role in selecting art exhibitors and winners. It's well known that a close connection with a jury member or special relationship between an art teacher and student can be an advantage.

"Now I hardly participate in art competitions, because my professor is so arrogant and doesn't involve himself in the small art community," says Xu Hong, a third-year art academy student from Shanghai.

"I was told that typically when jury members discuss art pieces, they are always reminded that this is so-and-so's student or this is the son or daughter of a who's-who or important person. Only if I'm a genius could I be discovered."

"That's why we are open and fair and why our first edition is popular among young artists," Peng says. "Only by adopting this policy of transparent selection can we find the really good pieces."

The exhibition first held in Beijing attracted around 1,000 visitors, including critics, curators and museum directors.

"They come because they find something different, something interesting and something new," Peng says.

For example, Wang Zi's "Add One Meter to the Unknown Mountain" mocks several big names in contemporary art. It takes the title of a famous 1995 work of performance art (and famous photograph) by Zhang Huan. In that work, naked young people piled themselves flat, one on top of the other, to height of one meter, adding to the height of a mountain outside Beijing.

Next year the organizer may add more exhibition cities in addition to Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai, Peng says.

"We want to attract more young artists from different cities to diversify the Young Art 100."

Date: December 11-14, 10am-6pm

Venue: Shanghai Urban Sculpture Center, 570 Huaihai Rd W.


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