Progress did not just solely come from the West. China has long been the cradle of Asian civilization and it is visible in the countless works of art and historic pieces that speaks so highly of the country’s rich history and culture that has spanned centuries. Even today, China is still a force to reckon with in the global arena. Simply just look at where most products are made and you’d see them labeled as “Made in China” and it is easy to see how much influence The Land of the Red Dragon still has over the rest of the world. If that’s the case, it is still possible for Chinese Art to gain international recognition for being classic masterpieces that they are.
Not only is the government determined in preserving their rich culture but even private individuals with a lot of cash to burn take part in the initiative to protect Chinese contemporary art for the generations to come. Philanthropists like Adrian Cheng is surely able to do this impossible feat as he is backed by his multi-billion businesses in jewelry and real estate. He has long set up a foundation that aims to preserve the works of contemporary Chinese artists to better position contemporary Chinese culture for all the world to see. He values the importance of having a solid cultural identity for the burgeoning younger and wealthier Chinese population that is ready to take on the world and keep abreast with other more popular and known art and culture the majority is more familiar with.
K11’s rapid rise to art-world ubiquity illustrates both the ambition of its founder, billionaire Chinese real estate and jewelry scion Adrian Cheng, and the art industry’s definitive pivot to Asia as dealers and institutions seek to engage the region’s rapidly growing number of billionaires and reflect the rising influence of its artists.
The 38-year-old Cheng does not mince words when describing that ambition. His goal is nothing less than “to create a contemporary Chinese culture,” he said when we met last November in a wood-paneled room at the top of a Shanghai tower that holds offices for two of Cheng’s companies (the Hong Kong-based real estate group New World Development, and Chow Tai Fook Jewelry Group, both founded by his grandfather Cheng Yu-tung, are among his largest holdings). The tower sits atop one of Cheng’s K11 “Art Malls,” as his department stores are known, a growing number of which house a K11 Art Foundation exhibition space alongside their retail offerings.
Having an art mall is definitely a great way to reach a wider audience whether or not they can or not afford to purchase expensive art pieces. At a time and age when people are more social than ever, these art malls are such a big hit and will surely fit in with the growing social consciousness among the masses who loves posting a selfie or two now and then and all the IG-worthy photos that are simply to die for. With this, the K11 Art Foundation has likely hit the bull’s eye. There are countless changes going on in the world today and the same thing is happening in China. People appreciate experiences more than just simple retail therapy and taking their mall-time experience to the next level by allowing them to immerse in the arts is something that will stay in their memories forever.
The artist’s work was praised, and Li eventually left China. He became a professor and a U.S. citizen, and later was jailed in China for his pro-democracy stands. He is now a professor of international business and eminent scholar at Old Dominion University.
During the years, Li has collected more than 250 propaganda posters from the 1950s to the ’70s to preserve that era. More than 20 of the posters are being exhibited at the Chrysler Museum of Art in “The Art of Revolution: Chinese Propaganda Posters from the Collection of Shaomin Li.”
The exhibition includes several personal artifacts, such as Li’s sketchbooks and the model books artists had to use. They contained images approved by the government. The show is organized in several themes, including “The Cult of Mao,” “Glorifying the Military” and “Propaganda as Educational Material in China after Mao.”
Even propaganda materials like posters that were used during the Chinese Revolutions are now considered as classic art pieces since they signify an important part of China’s history that has shaped the country that we know of today. Despite the rapid globalization that is spreading throughout the planet, understanding Chinese history through these fragments of its history and culture can help us better understand why Chinese people are more closely guarded than the rest of the world. It is apparent with the way they live, the way their country is governed, and the things the citizens are allowed to do and not. We can truly learn a lot from seeing cultural art pieces as it explains in vivid detail the policies of a country simply by reading between the lines, in this case, painting a picture in your mind.