What is the place of art in China today? Or rather, in a world where the underpinnings of the post-World War II consensus have come suddenly loose, a world whose most prosperous corners find themselves in thrall to sectarian populism, a world increasingly unable to deny the changes wrought to its ecosystem by the last hundred years of human emissions, and a world in which, despite it all, China continues to grow in output and influence, what is to be done?
Coined by Carl Schmitt and expanded by Giorgio Agamben, “state of exception”—the exhibition’s Chinese title—refers to a political situation in which the normal laws and regulations of a society are abruptly suspended, replaced by temporary conditions that in turn form a new reality. States of exception have been imposed at moments of crisis throughout modern history; crisis today is constant, as ideals of freedom, equality, and openness, once held by some as universal values, fade into mass shootings, aborted ceasefires, violated norms, and tainted elections. In 2015 the Chinese leadership introduced “the new normal,” a way of talking about economic growth rates that, while lower than those of the most exuberant years of the early 2000s, continue to trump those of most other major economies. China’s assertively capitalist, globalist response to these increasingly acute dynamics—most recently typified by President Xi Jinping’s address to the World Economic Forum in Davos—might be said to form another “state of exception” in which artists live and work.
Taking the stable yet fragile reality of this evolving national condition as a point of departure, “The New Normal” includes work by more than twenty artists from China and beyond, occupying all four UCCA galleries. Continuing the institutional tradition of mounting a large-scale group exhibition once every four years begun with “Breaking Forecast: 8 Key Figures of China’s New Generation of Artists” in 2009 and continued with “ON | OFF: China’s Young Artists in Concept and Practice” in 2013, it arrays works by artists and artist groups that probe exceptional nodes as a way of examining underlying conditions. “The New Normal” is organized by UCCA curators Guo Xi, Yang Zi, Alvin Li, and Wenfei Wang working with UCCA director Philip Tinari. Li Hu/ OPEN Architecture are the exhibition architects. The exhibition will be accompanied by a rich complement of conversations, presentations, performances, and screenings, as well as a publication.
-Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA)