In her new book, Nanaimo art historian and former VIU visual art instructor Marie Leduc examines the rise in popularity of contemporary Chinese art in the West, particularly in the wake of the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989.
One concept that she picked up on when viewing Chinese art exhibitions was the idea of ‘dissidence.’
“It seemed to me that Western curators and art historians were looking at this art and often assigning it this political dissidence, even if the artist didn’t purposely go out and make any statement against or about China,” she said. “And so I was curious about that and I was curious about how that dissidence can also be understood as a value in the art world.”
This topic piqued Leduc’s curiosity when she visited art galleries and museums in China and was unable to find any of the Chinese art that was popular in the North American and European art markets. She chose to write her PhD dissertation on the matter, a project that took 10 years.
That dissertation is the basis of her new book, Dissidence: The Rise of Chinese Contemporary Art in the West. Leduc will be discussing her work at a book launch at the Nanaimo Art Gallery on Dec. 5. Although the book’s origin is academic, Leduc said the book is written to be accessible.
“I’ve tried to make it readable for a wide audience and I think they can take away from that a better understanding of how the contemporary art world operates, how art is given value and then also maybe have a better understanding of how and why Chinese contemporary art became so important, particularly through the 2000s and even still today,” she said.
In her research, Leduc focused on nine Chinese artists who moved to France around 1989 and followed them as they became established and noticed by “the art world.”
In her thesis, Leduc puts forth that the Tiananmen Square incident made people in the West take note of Chinese art and see those artists as dissidents, making art to protest the regulation of expression. However, the artists Leduc spoke with said this was not the case at all. She said that assumption comes from cultural differences.
“I found that kind of interesting how the art world actually draws in a lot of values from our own liberal democracy and promotes that, gives a value to other artists … for being provocative,” she said. “For making statements about political situations in the world … so I’m connecting this to that in the sense that the art world actually looks for artists to be provocative and be political in some way.”
WHAT’S ON … Marie Leduc book launch for Dissidence: The Rise of Chinese Contemporary Art in the West, takes place at the Nanaimo Art Gallery’s ArtLab studio on Wednesday, Dec. 5 from 7 to 9 p.m.