Hou Hanru: Super Reality

The San Francisco-Based Curator Selects Five Leading Chinese Artists and Galleries

Shot by photographer Jake Stengel against the backdrop of San Francisco’s famous Chinatown, Hou Hanru discusses the artists and themes guiding China’s contemporary art boom. The largest manifestation of Chinese visual culture outside of Asia, San Francisco’s Chinatown is a perfect example of the curator’s concept of “super reality”— the difference between reality as we experience it and as it is represented—and the globalized hybrid-world that inspires his socially progressive approach. The leading authority on Chinese contemporary art, Hou was one of the earliest curators to tackle the ideas of diaspora, globalization and nomadism central to the 21st-century environment of art fairs, biennials and multinational galleries. “In China, biennials have been a really major influence on how the public and the government have looked at contemporary art,” he explains. “It’s a shift from opposing and suppressing to supporting. The whole tendency has been turned upside-down and brought into a more positive direction.” Currently Director of Exhibitions and Public Programs and Chair of Exhibition and Museum Studies at the San Francisco Art Institute, Hou found acclaim after co-curating the landmark exhibition China/Avant-Garde at Beijing’s China National Art Gallery in 1989, subsequently directing the second Guangzhou Triennial in 2005, and the Chinese Pavilion at the 52nd Venice Biennale. Here, Hou reveals the young artists and spaces redefining the future of China’s contemporary art scene. 

Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai
We developed a program there called Night Life which took over the exhibition space in the evenings as a workshop, a school and a space for all kind of activities from cinema to design to socio-political discussions. This helped the museum to develop a close relationship with the neighborhood and the city.

Times Museum, Guangzhou
During almost two years of preparation for the Guangzhou Triennial, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Guo Xiaoyan and myself invited artists, architects and scholars to a temporary university in which young people could attend workshops, symposiums and lectures. Rem Koolhaas talked about his work and helped the museum to build an extension that later became the Times Museum.

Artist Ou Ning’s Bishan project
Ou Ning bought some houses in Yixian County near Huangshan City to work with the farmers to revitalize the countryside, because a lot of it has been emptied out with the labor force moving to the city. They organize an annual festival to help local communities to rediscover their own craft traditions and build new cultural roots in the agricultural community.  

Artist Xu Zhen’s Madein group
Trying to preserve their independent positions by negotiating their place in the marketplace and the world, Xu Zhen’s MadeIn group in Shanghai, fakes artwork, objects and productions and is turning them into a whole factory system.

Yangjiang group
Founded by Zheng Guogu, The Yangjiang group are revitalizing performance projects and urban interventions. For a project called Age Of Empires they built an incredible anarchic structure as an example of how informal architecture and production is really essential to China’s reality.
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Conversations (1)

  • GayleAlstrom
    I think Asian artists are doing the most interesting art work today. I think that Chinese artists will soon lead the art world. I used to live in San Francisco in North Beach, and I really enjoyed seeing the photos of Chinatown.
    • Posted By GayleAlstrom
    • May 15, 2012 at 11:04AM
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