Big Tail Elephants: Liang Juhui, Xu Tan, Chen Shaoxiong, and Me
By Liang Juhui 梁钜辉, Chen Shaoxiong 陈劭雄, Xu Tan 徐坦, Lin Yilin 林一林
Posted on July 8, 2014 by post
Big Tail Elephant was a four-member artists’ collective active in Guangzhou, China, from 1991 to 1998, the first such group in South China to employ multimedia art forms, photography, performance, installation, and video. While maintaining their individual artistic practices, the members—an advertisement designer, two teachers from the Guangzhou Art Academy, and a TV station worker—gathered regularly to talk about art and to organize annual group exhibitions.
Of the six group shows they staged between 1991 and 1997, one was held at a local bar, another in a private home, and still another in the basement of an office building. Big Tail Elephant’s predilection for challenging the official state-run art system by mounting exhibitions in alternative spaces earned them the sobriquet “urban guerrillas,” a title bestowed on them by curator Hou Hanru. Their retrospective at the Kunsthalle Bern in 1998 was the group’s first exhibition in a Western art institution and also, quite unexpectedly, their last show as a collective.
Painting and printmaking
The passing of Mao and Maoism after 1976 brought a new and sometimes refreshing chapter in the arts under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping. The 1980s were characterized by decreasing government control of the arts and increasingly bold artistic experimentation. Three phenomena in 1979 announced this new era: the appearance of Cubist and other Western styles as well as nude figures (although the government covered the nudes) in the murals publicly commissioned for the new Beijing airport; an influential private arts exhibition by the “Stars” art group at the Beijing Art Gallery; and the rise of a truly realistic oil painting movement, which swept away the artificiality of Socialist Realist propaganda.
By Michael Sullivan, Jerome Silbergeld, Liu Qiyi
Painting at the turn of the 21st century
By the late 1990s, in addition to continuing traditional forms, Chinese artists renewed the avant-garde experimentation of the mid-1980s and explored performance art, conceptual art, earth art, installation art, and video art, all chief media of the international art scene. As the art world became increasingly global, China thus became a part of it. At the 2000 Shanghai Biennial, theoreticians, critics, and artists discussed the virtues of retaining traditional Chinese forms as well as the importance of learning from foreign styles. These two often conflicting themes continued to define Chinese art into the 21st century.
By Liu Qiyi