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Thursday, 10 October, 2002, 10:25 GMT 11:25 UK
Chinese art makes waves in Paris
Feng Mengbo, Game Over, 1994
China's Communist world becomes a video game
The largest single collection of modern Chinese art is now on show in Paris. Made in China caused a stir on its opening night. The BBC's Charis Dunn-Chan was there.

To get in you needed a dinosaur. VIPs had gold plastic dinosaur key rings. Lesser VIPs had pink dinosaur key rings. Giant plastic dinosaurs were outside the entrance to greet you as you walked into the Espace Cardin close to the Champs Elysee.

After years of official disapproval or exile, at last the artists were being feted

The dinosaurs had a playful "Made in China" stamp straight down their chests. You knew you had arrived at an event that would be playful and outrageous in equal measure.

High society arrived in droves, including the French president's wife with camera crew in tow. Chinese modern art had arrived with an official seal of approval.

Even the Chinese ambassador spoke to camera in front of the art - much of which is never seen back home because of its political sensitivity.

From exile to recognition

The artists who had flown in for the opening stood, watched and enjoyed.

For the last 20 years many of them have struggled from poverty and official disapproval. Some were even exiled after the Tiananmen killings of 1989. At last, in Paris, they were being feted.

Qui Zhijie, Tatoo 1, 1997
Chinese art breaks taboos

Their works are stunning in their diversity of style, approach, medium and impact.

All the works are privately owned by one collector and his wife - Baron and Baroness Guy and Myriam Ullens. None of the works are for sale, and each is an outstanding choice from a range of contemporary artists.

This, the world's largest collection of contemporary Chinese art, is the first time it has been seen in its entirety in public.

Baron Ullens was modest in his sense of ownership. He indicated that a permanent home for the collection in China would be his first choice.

Most are turbulent, exuberant, challenging and brave.

But he said that it was still too early for China to take on responsibility for this collection, as the average income there had still not met the level needed to sustain a dedicated museum.

For the foreseeable future the collection will go back to storage in Geneva after the exhibition closes on 28 October.

Fantasy violence

The exhibition has some star attractions, many of which are in new media.

A computer-generated video installation by Feng Mengbo is a blast of pure cyber fantasy violence. Previous works by Feng have allowed people to log onto a web site and play interactively with him.

Song Dong has a twin experience video installation - "Burning Mirror" and "Broken Mirror". These two video sequences show the artist destroying one reflected scene to reveal another reality hidden behind. The act of breaking becomes an act of revelation.

Sui Jianguo, Made in China, 1999
Playful art designed to catch the eye

Another startling exhibit is by Fang Lijun. A series of six interlinked hanging scrolls, in black, grey and white, evoke the revolutionary art of China's iconoclastic and destructive Cultural Revolution of the 1960s.

Screaming anonymous faces jut out at every angle. Fists raised, eyes strained shut, the figures are a dominating and frightening sight.

In contrast, Liu Jianhua 's ceramic works are subversive by stealth. His porcelain creations of headless but beautifully voluptuous women's bodies served up on plates play on Chinese sensibilities of food, sex and aesthetics.

Yet despite the heavy weight of censorship and exile which Chinese artists face, few of the works seem oppressed in spirit.

Most are turbulent, exuberant, challenging and brave. Their skills are astonishing. For the most part they do not use technicians. The painstaking craft of their work is all their own.

See also:

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