From Beijing to Berlin: The beginnings of a new artistic dialogue between East and West

Berlin has recently welcomed a new addition to its ubiquity of contemporary art galleries. But this is an exhibition space with a crucial difference – as the first ever Chinese-owned and managed gallery to exist in Europe, the Zhong Gallery is a signifier of history in the making.

This groundbreaking new territory is suggestive not only of the continual expansion of China’s economic development, but perhaps more interestingly of a new dawning of cultural exchange between Eastern and Western art practice.

The gallery, which opened on 21 January this year was founded by Beijing collector Gaowen Zhu and will be directed by Jiangnan Wang, whose previous experience in the interchange between contemporary Eastern and Western art is indicative of the gallery’s defining curatorial approach. As Gaowen states: “Though Chinese contemporary art and the Chinese art market have already gained attention from all over the world, there are still sometimes quite stereotypical opinions outside China. Art is art.” The gallerist aims to break away from such stereotypes, and in particular the Western perception of otherness in Chinese art in general, by presenting the work of up-and-coming artists from China alongside their Western counterparts.

Berlin’s position at the forefront of progressive art-making makes it the ideal host for such a revolutionary new creative platform. And the exchange will not just be one-sided; Gaowen has announced plans to introduce Berlin artists’ work to an equivalent gallery in Beijing.

The first exhibition to be held at Berlin’s Zhong Gallery, Dawn: New Art from China exemplifies the recent diversification and exploration of the personal in Chinese art, and emphasises the shift away from its political focus in the late twentieth century. Of the group of exhibiting artists, namely Chen Yujun, Li Jikai, Li Qing, Wang Guangle, Wang Yabin, Wu Di, Yuan Yuan and Unmask Group, the latter’s collaborative work shows the most promise with its strange fragmented busts and humanoid, fiberglass sculptures reclining in cell-like ellipses.

While Ai Weiwei’s overtly political work has had an enormous impact on the Western artworld over the past decade – the fact that the artist himself was put at the top of last year’s Power 100 solidified his status as one of the most influential figures in the Western art market – there has previously been no native curatorial ‘voice’ for contemporary Chinese art within European galleries. Weiwei became a household name after the Tate’s Sunflower Seeds exhibition under the direction of Nicholas Serota; now it is the turn of native gallerists to present Chinese contemporary art to a Western audience.

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