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Art for/of the Masses

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Communism has influenced art practices for nearly a century, yet studies on how artists from post-Socialist countries respond to their Communist heritage remain limited in both scope and depth. This article examines how Chinese artists today appropriated, investigated and performed their revolutionary legacy. This article surveys a variety of practices while focusing on the Long March Project (2002), a group project that re-enacted a legendary episode of the Chinese Communist Party in its original locale. While many artists under discussion confront the Communist legacy with a combination of irony and nostalgia, some simulate Maoist strategies to shed new light on issues in contemporary art – its increasing detachment from a wider audience and its persistent fetishisation of individuality. The grassroots and improvisational approach of the Long March, the author argues, leads to a ‘communal aesthetics’: an art practice that appears genuinely collaborative, engaging and provocative in its geo-historical specificity yet falls flat when displayed in institutional settings.

Keywords: Chang Tan; Communism; Lu Jie; Xu Bing; Zhao Bandi; art for the masses; contemporary Chinese art; post-Socialist art; postmodern; relational art; the Long March

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: March 1, 2012

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