Art legends Warhol and Beuys meet in China

Updated: 2013-11-01 07:40

By Deng Zhangyu (China Daily)

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A swarm of flies struck the opening of pop art pioneer Andy Warhol's show on Sept 29 at the Art Museum of Central Academy of Fine Arts. Coincidentally, the German Fluxus-movement artist Joseph Beuys' show had also been hit by flies at the same place two weeks earlier.

As both Warhol and Beuys were known for their performance art, some viewers joked that the unexpected flies were a special welcome to them.

It's the first time the work of two leading figures of contemporary art has been exhibited at the same time in China, says Wang Huangsheng, director of the CAFA art museum who helped organize both shows.

 Art legends Warhol and Beuys meet in China

The show includes Dollar Sign, Don't Treat on Me, which Andy Warhol collaborated with Jean Basquiat from 1984 to 1985. Provided to China Daily

Wang says both artists gave early inspiration to Chinese contemporary artists through books and videos since the 1980s, 30 years before their artworks came to the country. However, both of them, Beuys in particular, are unfamiliar to many Chinese audiences.

Most people have seen Warhol's iconic works, like the Marilyn Monroe portraits and his Campbell's soup can, copies of which are widely printed on T-shirts and accessories. But they are unlikely to put the name of the pop artist with his works, and may never even have heard of the artist.

Eric C. Shiner, director of the Andy Warhol Museum at Pennsylvania's Pittsburgh, says the Americans "love their Warhol", but he also hopes the Chinese masses can learn about Warhol and know more about the artist, not only his Monroe portraits, but also his films, photographs and other ephemera which are on display.

Warhol visited Beijing in 1982, his first and only visit to China. Like any tourist, he went to Tian'anmen Square and the Forbidden City, posing at each site. At that time, the already well-known artist in the West was nobody in China, says Shiner. Now his works hang on the walls of one of China's top museums.

At the opening, Shiner was bombarded with questions about the connections between Andy Warhol's Asia tour and Warhol's works' auction by Christie's at Shanghai three days before its show in Beijing. The exhibition toured Hong Kong last December and Shanghai in April.

The hammer price of Warhol's Diamond Dust Shoes was 4 million yuan ($657,200) at Christie's sale in Shanghai, but the touring exhibition was not connected to the auction sales, says Shiner.

"Our museum will never sell any of Warhol's works, " repeats Shiner.

Beuys, meanwhile, is much less known than Warhol and his exhibition Social Sculpture - Beuys in China was quieter.

Art legends Warhol and Beuys meet in China

The German performance artist is regarded as one of the most influential artists of the second half of the 20th century. Beuys' works are harder to understand than Warhol's, as he sought to overthrow the public's sense that art is a piece of painting.

There's no painting in Beuys' art, says Zhu Qingsheng, art professor with Peking University who has been researching Beuys for years. Many Chinese art professors think that performance art is being naked, but that's because they never really know Beuys, Zhu insists, quoting Beuys' "Everyone can be an artist".

Xu Juan, co-curator of the Beuys show, says even in his motherland Germany, Beuys is perceived as a socialist rather than an artist.

Michael Berger, a German collector of Beuys, says it took him 20 years to understand his art.

Even so, Wang Huangsheng, the director of the CAFA Art Museum and co-curator of the Beuys' exhibition, stresses the importance of the exhibition. Although many Chinese artists know the name of the German artist, the show is a chance to look deep into what is a real Beuys, adds Wang.

Every Chinese can see Warhol's works on advertising boards at bus stops, he says, but if they want to see Beuys, they have to go to the museum in person.

(China Daily 11/01/2013 page18)