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October 30, 2009

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Focus on young artists of 'Gelatin Generation'

THE global economic downturn has led to a cooling and reassessment of hyped Chinese contemporary art and caused artists, critics, curators and collectors to ponder its future.

The legendary "four big mountains" (big-name contemporary artists Fang Lijun, Yue Minjun, Wang Guangyi and Zhang Xiaogang) have lost a bit of luster.

Zhang Qing, a renowned curator who established the "Shanghai Biennale," may be a step ahead of others in developing his ongoing "Infantalization" series by around 60 young artists, sometimes called the "Gelatin Generation."

Like gelatin, it is said, they take any shape; it is also said they are flexible, tolerant and open-minded.

"Infantalization" was launched at the Shanghai Art Museum early in 2007, then it traveled to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Taipei that year, and the Antwerp FotoMuseum in Belgium in 2008.

It is being updated and refreshed; artists and works are added or dropped to reflect reality.

In the first half of next year, it goes to museums in Lyon, France; Basel, Switzerland; and Tokyo, Japan.

The exhibition offers a multi-dimensional view of the art and life of the new generation of China's urban youth through painting, illustration, sculpture, video, animation, photography and installation.

"My purpose at that time was simple, I wanted to break with the past," Zhang tells Shanghai Daily.

"To me, the past meant what prevailed in past decades such as pop art, gaudy art and cynical realism.

"When art becomes increasingly commercialized and loses its creative edge, it is imperative to encourage a more thoughtful approach to art," he says.

Zhang was especially disgusted to find works featuring a modern youth wearing a red young pioneer scarf and standing below a portrait of Chairman Mao Zedong.

"That's rather ridiculous, because the 1980s generation knows the least about the 'cultural revolution' (1966-76)."

In reaction, Zhang decided to seek out and present the real situation and "truthful art" of young urban people. He coined the term infantalization in English and Gelatin Generation in Chinese.

"I found several interesting and thought-provoking phenomenon among the China's 1980s generation after my team and I visited thousands of young artists' studios around the country," Zhang says.

He divides contemporary artists into three groups:

"Pseudo-tender youth." Just as 50-year-olds pose as 40-year-olds and 40-year-olds pretend to be in their 30s and so on, the desire to seem young has become an urban pursuit.

"Prolonged youth." These people are over 30 but still refuse to become true adults. They "float idly on the foam raft of youth" in lifestyle, customs, dress, expression and language.

"Infantalized youth." This group is perhaps the most extreme. They are already over 20, yet they are equally terrified of youth and adulthood, "psychologically and emotionally unwilling to enter early adulthood."

"The cause of infantalized youth reflects the changes in society, such as family structure and commercialized lifestyle," Zhang says.

He has a strict rule for selecting young artists for his exhibition.

"I exclude any artist who is contracted to a gallery or a foundation, which means none of them has any commercial background. This is critical."

In fact, Zhang seems to break the typical successful artist's career path: studio to gallery to museum.

"Actually, they leap-frogged from their studio directly to the museum," he says. "It's very experimental."

Zhang's "Infantalization" exhibition changes in content to reflect urban reality.

"Some artists grow and pursue another direction in art. Some produce new work that is better suited to our theme," he says.

The infusion of new blood keeps it relevant.

Asked if he, a man in his 40s has problems communicating with the 1980s generation, Zhang laughs.

"Believe it or not, I don't have any problem in working with them. Perhaps I am an infantalized youth myself. I can understand them deeply. They normally hide away in their private spaces, neglecting or even refusing connection with society or other people, but their heart is filled with freedom, loneliness, purity and openness."

For them, art is an emotional release and a private thing, he observes.

"They are not anxious to obtain fame through art. Their art is pure and reflects their real condition, which could be rarely found now."

Zhang is busy preparing for next year's exhibitions.

"I hope a true glimpse of the real life of China's young urban people can be seen in the West, instead of some stereotyped faces," he says.

"Infantalization" is maturing.

"It's been about five years since the idea popped out. Aging is natural, whether for an academic exhibition or for a real person."


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