85 new wave…looking at Chinese avant-garde art since 1985

When talking about modern art these days, Chinese avant-garde art is perhaps the hottest subject.  There have been more than 25 exhibitions devoted to it in the United States alone from 1996 to 2005.  The number of art galleries in China is growing in a lightning speed. Until recently, art exhibitions deemed controversial have been closed by police, and performance artists in particular faced the threat of arrest in the early 1990s. More recently there has been greater tolerance by the Chinese government, which triggers the outgrowth of modern art development.  Let’s look at the work of some visual artists from this experimental art movement in China:

Pre-Chinese avant-garde

0. Wu Guanzhong 吳冠中 (1919 – )

Graduated from Chongqing National College of Art in China in 1942.  In 1947, studied abroad at public expense at the National Higher Education Academy of Fine Arts in Paris, France in painting.  Recognized as the leading master of modern Chinese painting by the international art scene of the 20th century.

The Ancient City of Jiaohe by Wu  Guanzhong

The Ancient City of Jiaohe by Wu Guanzhong

Untitled (River houses) by Wu Guanzhong

Untitled (River houses) by Wu Guanzhong

Wistaria by Wu Guanzhong

Wistaria by Wu Guanzhong

1985 – present Chinese avant-garde

background: post-Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) in China, the long-repressed artists reemerged and continued to develop since mid-1980s as an outgrowth of modern art development.

1. Wang Guangyi (1956 -)

Leader of the New Art Movement circles that erupted out of China after 1989 and for his Great Criticism series of paintings, using the images of propaganda from the Cultural Revolution and contemporary brand names from western advertising. His works are the visual iconography of both the Chinese Cultural Revolution and American pop art.

Great Criticism - Warhol by Wang Guangyi

Great Criticism - Warhol by Wang Guangyi

Great Criticism - Coca Cola by Wang Guangyi

Great Criticism - Coca Cola by Wang Guangyi

2. Mao Xuhui (1956 -)

Best-known for his series of scissor paintings, which has a power and depth and style that are surprising for art pieces centered on a single object.

Red Scissors by Mao Xuhui

Red Scissors by Mao Xuhui

3. Zhang Xiaogang 張曉剛 (1958 -)

Classified as a contemporary Chinese symbolist and surrealist painter. Best known for his Bloodline series of paintings, which are often monochromatic, stylized portraits of Chinese people, usually with large, dark-pupiled eyes, posed in a stiff manner deliberately reminiscent of family portraits from the 1950s and 60s.

Three comrades by Zhang Xiaogang

Bloodline: Three comrades by Zhang Xiaogang

A Big Family by Zhang Xiaogang

A Big Family by Zhang Xiaogang

4. Li Jin (1958 – )

His subjects are often food, sex, women and animals. His pieces are also an expressive and colorful blend of traditional Chinese ink painting and modernist technique.

by Li Jin

by Li Jin

5. Yue Minjun 岳敏君 (1962 -)

Best known for oil paintings depicting himself in various settings, frozen in laughter. Classified as part of the Chinese “Cynical Realist” movement in art developed in China since 1989.  His work ‘Execution’ was the most expensive work ever by a Chinese contemporary artist, when sold in 2007 for £2.9 million pounds (US $5.9 million) at London’s Sotheby’s.

Execution by Yue Mingjun

Execution by Yue Minjun

Butterfly by Yu Minjun

Butterfly by Yu Minjun

6. Fang Lijun 方力鈞 (1963 -)

Known to be one of the main forerunners of the early 1990’s movement known as Cynical Realism Fang Lijun’s famous figure, together with Yue Minjun’s representative character, have already become well known icons in the world of Chinese contemporary art.

Group Two, No. 2 by Fang Lijun

Group Two, No. 2 by Fang Lijun

7. Yang Shaobin (1963 -)

Yang Shaobin is one of China’s most famous Contemporary Oil Painters. Together with Fang Lijun And Yue Minjun he is a leading figure in the movement known as Cynical Realism.

Untitled by Yang Shaobin

Untitled by Yang Shaobin

8. Liu Ye (1964 -)

In Liu Ye’s art, humor and sadness blend into a whole. The stillness of his ironic images provide us with a deep sense of detachment and timeless freedom.

WOW by Liu Ye

WOW by Liu Ye

Banned Book by Liu Ye

Banned Book by Liu Ye

9. Zeng Fanzhi (1964 -)

Unlike many of the other well-known Chinese painters, Zeng’s subjects are not political but psychological. In his well-known “Mask” series, Zeng’s figures wear a white mask; they are mostly well-dressed urbanites, but they have large, strange hands, weird expressions, blank stares or puzzling eyes.

Tiananmen by Zeng Fanzhi

Tiananmen by Zeng Fanzhi

Mask series by Zeng Fanzhi

Mask series by Zeng Fanzhi

Last Supper by Zeng Fanzhi

Last Supper by Zeng Fanzhi

10. Zhao Bo (1974 -)

Zhao Bo is one of a group of young artists called New Realists, who look to their immediate surroundings, most often life in the streets, as their inspiration and produce works inspired by these scenes.

My Massive Wedding Party by Zhao Bo

My Massive Wedding Party by Zhao Bo

New Cellphone by Zhoa Bo

New Cellphone by Zhoa Bo


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