Book Review: ‘Avant-Garde’ Art Groups in China, 1979-1989 by Paul Gladston
書評:保羅•葛思諦《中國1979至89的“前衛”藝術團體》


作者:龔之允

發佈時間:20 Feb 2017

 

‘Avant-Garde’ Art Groups in China, 1979-1989 by Paul Gladston

‘Avant-Garde’ Art Groups in China, 1979-1989 by Paul Gladston

 

 

In 2013, Prof. Paul Gladston (University of Nottingham) published ‘Avant-Garde’ Art Groups in China, 1979-1989, an English art history monograph focuses on the originality of contemporary Chinese art. There are a few publications about the avant-garde art groups in the 1980s China, for instance The ’85 Movement (2 volumes) by Gao Minglu, A History of Modern Chinese Art, 1979-1989 by Lu Peng and Yi Dan, as well as New Tide of Painting published by Zhang Qiang as early as in 1988; however Gladston’s was the only western monograph that discussed specifically about issues of the ’85 New Wave groups in China. Although Gladston was not a participant nor a witness to the Chinese avant-garde movement in the 1980s unlike the aforementioned Chinese scholars, his vision had a much more global and post-modernist scope that successfully provides another perspective in interpreting its history.

 

Format, Narrative and Interview:

The format of this book is specific and unique. It comprises of two parts: the first part gives the reader an introduction of the trajectory of Chinese art in a culture context since 1911 when the Republic was founded, and explains relationship between social consciousness of contemporaneity and Chinese art; while the second part introduces four representative art groups in the 1980s: The Stars, The North Art Group, The Pond Association and Xiamen Dada. In interpreting the four case studies, Gladston took a new approach by combining an introduction and in-depth interviews discussing the avant-garde-ness of Chinese art.

 

Such an approach is distinctly from Gao Minglu, Lu Peng and Zhang Qiang’s publications. The ’85 Movement edited by Gao and his colleagues collected tremendous source of material, and gave a comprehensive analysis, divided into two volumes, a collection of historical resources and a history thesis. In the thesis volume, the editors emphasised on a crucial issue of the ’85 – historical shift – with a total (quasi) philosophic framework. This colossal book not only employed various scientific methods, such as large data statistics, regional divisions, cross fields synthetic framing, but also followed traditional Chinese official history writing methods (with the format of biography 传, document 书, narrative 志, timetable 表, and so forth). While Lu Peng’s book interpreted history thematically, with narratives, quotes and comments, in the format of Chronicles; Zhang Qiang’s book introduced the history by commenting on each individual group. Whereas Gladston provided a narrative with comments for each group as well as his interviews with different artists. Through a dialogue of artists’ retelling their stories, Gladston strategically revealed some critical issues that had not been fully considered by previous research.

 

Allegedly, compiling contemporary Chinese art in the format of interview is very popular, for example, The Situation of Chinese Avant-Garde by the Gao Brothers and China Talks: Interviews with 32 Contemporary Artists by Jerome Sans (the director of Ullens Center for Contemporary Art when he published the book). However these interviews focused on the timeliness of present issues, while historical discourse only took a very small part. Meanwhile Gladston’s utilised history as a fulcrum, he aimed at representing and discussing history through conversations with artists and witnesses, and in hope of revealing some unresolved historical aspects.

 

Gladston called this approach “critical history deconstruction”. He believes that history cannot be fully represented, as in recollecting history, historians inevitably have to face various degrees of limitations, for example lack of materials, authenticating evidence and witnesses, and the inaccuracy caused by the conflicts and mutual benefits between the individual and the collective. Therefore, Gladston identified himself as a cultural critic rather than an art historian. This self identification directly reflects upon his publication with regard to the format and the content.

 

Questioning and relocating “modernity” and “avant-garde-ness” :

In representing the trajectory of Chinese art in the 1980s, Gladston was fully aware of the relationship between Chinese special institutional/political structure (system 体制) and the art groups. If the system had not advocated “Let One Hundred Flowers Bloom”, “Liberate Your Thinking”, “Enlightenment” and “Humanist Enthusiasm”, the so called “avant-garde” groups would never have expected to emerge from the underworld to the official, and have the cushion space in which negotiation with the official government would be viable.[1] Without the support if the national or provincial artists’ associations, museums and art publications, at least from The Stars to the ’85 groups, all would have emerged in entirely different forms, potentially far from the historical occurrences, or may even have never transpired. When Gladston explored the historical circumstances, he first and foremost argued the “modernity” of the art groups in the 1980s, and further pointed out that these “avant-garde” groups are very different from the post-modernist art waves that struggled against the established power structure of art in the West.

 

Although there were many obstacles in the course of modernisation of Chinese art in style, taste and ideology, there were many instances of back and forth. Nevertheless Gladston asserted that “contemporary Chinese art is simply a belated extension of Western modernism/postmodernism”. Meanwhile he stressed that the effects of Western cultural translation inevitably refracted contemporary Chinese art in relation to localised circumstances. Moreover, Gladston believed it is possible to “view contemporary Chinese art as part of a genealogy of multidirectional cultural re-contextualisations and re-motivations that effectively deconstruct the notion that there is any sort of categorical distinction between the visual culture of China and that of the West”.[2]

 

It was interesting to note that the Gao Brothers in comparing the historical milieus of Chinese and Western art concluded that in the 21st century, Chinese art could still serve avant-garde-ness that was mutualised in the West since the 1970s. For them, avant-garde-ness meant “cultural challenge that stimulates social revival”.[3] In examining the case of Rauschenberg’s exhibition in China in 1985 which had provoked strong reaction from Chinese artists to be aware of Postmodernism, Li Peilei pointed out that Rauschenberg’s influence in China was far greater than in the contemporary West, because China was not familiar with multiple media collages that became prevalent in the 1960s in the West.[4] Such a notion corresponds Gladston’s assertion about the belated-ness of Chinese art trajectory.

 

On a certain level Gladston’s opinion accords that of the Gao Brothers, namely Chinese “avant-garde” art in the 1980s was within the historical framework of modernisation, in other words, an extension of China’s response to the challenge set by Western colonialism since the Opium War. Such a cultural game accompanies the course of China’s modernisation; therefore if the art groups in the 1980s were to be restructured into a larger scale of cultural-historical scope, the “avant-garde-ness” of them indeed appeared to be controversial. That is the reason why Gladston used quotation marks in referring to “avant-garde” groups, as it clarifies his critical stance in historicising it.

 

Dialogue and the Right to Speech:

A significant proportion of the book comprised of the interviews that Gladston did with the artists. Throughout the conversations with different artists from each group, he attempted to reveal the intensions and strategies of dialogues between the interviewer and the interviewees. Even though the dialogues were presented objectively in texts, Gladston gave the reader the liberty of judging the conversational phenomenon. Through the dialogues, it became apparent that each group had differences and similarities in organisation, there were also compatibility and arguments between the individual and the collective. More importantly, these conversations reflected some real aspects of historical circumstances. For example, artists dedicated most of their interactions to discussing their everyday lives rather than art theory or aims, which was very understandable and expected. Furthermore, each individual artist had different intensions when joining the groups. Making exhibitions and conferences enhanced the solidarity of the groups which was one of the de-structuralist cues that Gladston wished to present to the reader.

 

Consequently this book was aimed at a Western audience, Gladston specifically explained Chinese cultural technique terms (Confucius, Chan Buddhist and Daoist canons) in the endnotes. Such an arrangement enables the reader to have a comfortable and guided navigation in engaging this unfamiliar field.

 

Criticism:

When compared with books on the same topic this monograph has a unique characteristic, by using no more than 200 pages it has successfully outlined the trajectory of Chinese art in the 1980s. More importantly, the author constantly inserted critical arguments about the issue of “avant-garde-ness” and different artists responded in different ways, this reflected the complexity and diversity of history. In making a book that deconstructs history, Gladston, without a doubt, has succeeded.

 

However, it must be addressed that there were more Chinese art groups in the 1980s than the four that the book exemplified, and more significantly Life-Stream groups (labelled by Gao Minglu formed the duality of the ’85 with Reason-Wave groups) were entirely neglected. The Southwest Art Group, which was the leading group in the Life-Stream, could well demonstrate how the original autonomous art associations shifted into semi-official ones. And this is a key in exploring the shifting nature of the ’85 New Wave. Furthermore, even though other groups had less influence on the Chinese art scene in the 1990s, they did shed light on probing the promotional power structure of Chinese “avant-garde” art. In other words, what was the reason that only few groups among dozens were selected to represent history, gained attention, and eventually shape art history?

 

Fortunately, Glabston has already taken those issues into consideration after the publication, it is foreseeable he would make deeper and further arguments. Although some arguments were absent from the book, Gladston’s writing strategy serves well in stimulating the reader’s critical thinking and this was precisely what he aimed for: to destruct a phenomenon and give the right to speech and judgment to the reader.

[1] Paul Gladston, 2013, ‘Avant-Garde’ Art Groups in China, 1979-1989, Intellect, p. 19.

[2] Gladston, ‘Avant-Garde’ Art Groups in China, 1979-1989, p. 25.

[3] Gao Brothers, 2002, The Situation of Chinese Avant-Garde Art, Jiangsu People’s Press, p. 34. [高氏兄弟:《中國前衛藝術狀況》,江蘇人民出版社2002年]

[4] 李培蕾:《現代與後現代藝術的反思》,江西美術出版社2008年,第118頁。

 

 

諾丁漢大學的葛思諦教授2013年出版的《中國1979至89的“前衛”藝術團體》是一部關註中國當代藝術起源和發展的英文藝術史專著。關於中國80年代先鋒藝術團體的出版物有很多,如高名潞的《85美術運動》、呂澎的《中國現代藝術史:1979-1989》以及在80年代末期就出版了的張薔的《繪畫新潮》,但葛思諦的這本書卻是現在唯一一本的從西方學者角度來論述中國85新潮藝術群體的專著。雖然他和前面提到的幾位中國學者不同,並不是80年代中國前衛藝術的參與人或見證者,但也正因為此,擁有全球化和後現代主義視野的他,對這段歷史有著不同的見解。

評述與訪談並重的體例:
葛思諦教授的這部書的體例也獨具匠心,分為兩大部分:第一部分向西方讀者介紹了1911年辛亥革命以來中國藝術的發展,以及後毛澤東時代的中國藝術與現代/當代意識間的關系;第二部分則介紹了四個有代表性的80年代藝術團體,“星星”、“北方藝術群體”、“池社”和“廈門達達”。在敘述四個案例的時候,葛思諦別開生面地使用了介紹加訪談的形式來表述和討論中國藝術的“前衛性”問題。

這樣的體例安排與上面提到的高名潞、呂澎和張薔的著作都不同。高名潞編著的《85美術運動》收錄了大量的資料和詳盡的分析,分為“歷史資料匯編”和“論述”兩大卷。在“論述”那一卷中,編者們抓住了85時期的突出問題——歷史轉型——做了較為全面的概述和哲學框架下的分析。這部鴻篇巨制還采用了各種科學歷史方法論,如大數據統計、區域劃分、跨學科綜合分析等,具備了中國傳統史書的紀、傳、表、書、誌的形式。呂澎的書,則按照事件為主題,分章兼敘兼議兼引,更偏重編年史的撰寫方式。張薔則按照藝術團體分做介紹和評述。葛思諦則在緒論之後導入了訪談的形式,通過對話和回述來引導出一些問題。

誠然以訪談形式編寫中國當代藝術非常普遍,比如高氏兄弟的《中國前衛藝術狀況》以及前尤倫斯當代藝術中心館長傑羅姆•桑斯(Jerome Sans)的《對話中國:傑羅姆•桑斯與32位當代藝術家訪談》等。但這些訪談更註重時效性,而歷史性的討論只是其中的一個方面。葛思諦的書則基於歷史出發,以還原和探討歷史為目的,通過與藝術家/歷史當事人的對話,揭示歷史的側面。
葛思諦把這種歷史書寫方法稱為“批判理論式的歷史解構”。他認為歷史具有不可完全還原的特性,歷史學家在回述歷史時總存在著許多局限,比如材料的缺失、物證和人證的真偽鑒別,個人和集體由於利益的共榮或沖突所導致的回述與所發生事件的誤差。因此,葛思諦對自我的定位是文化批評學者,而不是藝術史家。這一自我定位直接反映在了他著作的體例和內容上。

對“現代性”和“前衛性”的質疑與再定位:
在回述80年代中國藝術發展的時候,他清醒地認識到了中國特殊體制與藝術團體之間的關系。如果沒有體制內號召的“百花齊放”、“解放思想”、“啟蒙運動”、“人文熱情”,那麽所謂的“前衛”藝術團體也沒有從地下轉到地上的思想準備和與官方交涉妥協的緩和空間。如果沒有國家及地方美協、美術館、藝術報刊的支持,從星星到85的藝術團體都起碼會以另外一種與歷史發生完全不同的方式出現,或者根本就不會出現。葛思諦在探究歷史語境的時候首先就質疑了中國80年代藝術團體的“現代性”,並且指出了這些“前衛”團體與當時西方的後現代主義的藝術浪潮在反抗固有藝術權利結構上的不同之處。
雖然中國藝術的現代化進程充滿了曲折,在風格、趣味和意識形態上出現過多次反復和變化,但葛思諦認為80年代的“前衛”藝術團體本質上是現代化進程的延續,即在和已構建的西方藝術體系的交流學習中,對中國和西方的藝術發展作出重新的定位,所謂的“前衛”仍然滯後於西方現代和後現代藝術的發展。
有趣的是,高氏兄弟通過中西方藝術史語境的比較,認為中國藝術在21世紀初仍然具備西方在1970年代以後就消解了的前衛性,因為前衛性即通過文化挑戰促進社會復興。 勞申伯(Robert Rauschenberg)1985年在中國的展覽激發了當時中國藝術家對後現代主義的認識,李培蕾指出勞申伯在中國得到的反響要遠遠超出同期的西方,因為中國對早於1960年代就出現的綜合材料多媒體瓶貼並不了解。 這與葛思諦所指出中國藝術發展的滯後性相呼應。
葛思諦在某種程度上與高氏兄弟的觀點一致,即中國80年代的“前衛”藝術仍在一個現代化的歷史框架中,即鴉片戰爭以來中國應對西方殖民主義挑戰的延續。而這種文化博弈伴隨著中國現代化的進程,因此如果把80年代的藝術團體解構到大範圍的歷史文化層面,他們的“前衛性”確實有待商榷。由此,葛思諦給“前衛”藝術團體加了引號,表明他對歷史的批判立場。

對話與話語權:
葛思諦與藝術家的訪談占了整本書的很大篇幅,他試圖通過對每個藝術團體的不同藝術家的對答,向讀者反映訪談語境中訪問者與被訪者的對話動機和對答策略。僅管對話通過文字客觀地紀錄了訪談,但是葛思諦把交流現象的判斷交給了讀者。從對答中可以看出,每個藝術團體的組成契機的異同,個體與團體之間的差異和共融性,更重要的是,對答反映出了一些真實的歷史語境。比如,藝術團體中藝術家在溝通時大部分時間討論的是生活,而不是純粹的藝術理論和目標,這一點是合乎常理的。再次,每個藝術家對藝術團體有著不同的加入動機,集體展覽和研討會則是凝聚團體的結點,這也是葛思諦向讀者展示的解構線索之一。
由於該書面向的主要是西方讀者,葛思諦還就各種中國特有的術語,如儒家經典、禪宗佛學和道家無為等用尾註的形式加以解釋說明。這樣的安排給予讀者一種較為舒適的階梯式導向,循序漸進、深入淺出。

批評與不足:
誠然該書的體例和內容與同類專著相比具有非常鮮明的特色,以不到200頁的篇幅清晰地勾勒出了一個80年代中國藝術發展的脈絡;更為重要的是,作者不時地穿插了一些尖銳的關於“前衛性”的問題,不同的藝術家也對此作出了不同的回應,反映了歷史的復雜性和多樣性。作為一部解構歷史的著作,葛思諦無疑是成功的。
但需要指出的是,80年代中國藝術團體遠遠不止書中所列舉的那四個,而且比較重要的被高名潞認為是與“理性之潮”形成二元結構的“生命之流”團體完全被省略了。“生命之流”中的代表團體“西南藝術團體”在形成與發展中呈現的由自發到半官方性質的流變,是探索85新潮性質前後變化問題的一大關鍵。再次,其他藝術團體雖然沒有對中國90年代以後的藝術發展產生重大的影響,但它們也為探究推介中國“前衛”藝術的權利結構提供了重要的線索。即,究竟基於哪些因素使得在數十個藝術團體中,只有幾個得到了歷史的特別關註,成為了歷史的形狀。而那些沒有被重視的藝術團體,是否不應該算在歷史裏面,即便有證據表明它們確實存在?
這些問題葛思諦教授在完成書稿後不久就註意和意識到了,相信他在今後的出版中會加上這些議題的討論。僅管有一些議題在書中缺席,但瑕不掩瑜,葛思諦教授的書寫策略確實能夠引發讀者對藝術的批判性思考,這也是他希望達到的最主要目的:解構一種現象,而把判斷和話語權交給讀者。