supported program: Mexico/China Exchange in the 1950s

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The haudenschild Garage supported Zheng Shengtian‘s research project which investigated the influence of Mexican art on the development of in the 20th century.  Shengtian is the Managing Editor of the Yishu Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art the first publication on Chinese contemporary art in English.

A Research Project to Investigate Mexico and China’s Exchange in 20th Century
Mexico, February 2008

The Project

Exchange, dialogue and migration between societies have occurred throughout the history of art and continue to impact our society today. Unfortunately, very few scholars have investigated the development of collective visual culture, especially those occurring outside the European-American cultural arena. This research project is designed to uncover the influence of Mexican art on the development of contemporary Chinese art in 20th century. The project, consisting of research trips to both China and Mexico seeks to further encourage this artistic dialogue through meetings and artistic collaboration. It is our hope the result of this project will be presented in a documentary film and an art exhibition.

The History

Documented contact between Mexico and China can be found as early as 1934, when Mexican artist, Miguel Covarrubias visited Shanghai and soon became the mentor of a group of young Chinese artists. A major exchange took place in 1950s after China’s communist revolution. Mexican artists Xavier Guerrero, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Ignacio Aguirre and Arturo García Bustos, among others, visited China successively. In March and July 1956, two exhibitions of Mexican painting and prints came to Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. As China was completely closed to the West at that time, the art work in the exhibition brought new styles and new ideas and influenced a great number of Chinese artists. Yao Zhonghua, painter and the head of Yunnan Painting Institute, recalled how “the large murals by Diego Rivera that recruited the Indian tradition and Western modernism excited us and refreshed our eyes. It was in congruence with our artistic pursuit… we were having feverish dreams about making murals.” And make murals they did. Commissioned by the Beijing Airport in 1979, a group of Chinese artists completed a dozen large scale murals pushing the boundaries of artistic expression. It was the first art movement after ending of the Cultural Revolution and marked the beginning of a new era for contemporary Chinese art.

The Delegation

The delegation is led by Zheng Shengtian – Independent Canadian curator and managing editor of Yishu Journal(www.yishujournal.com). He is joined by Chinese artists Yao Zhonghua and Sun Jingbo– Muralist and Professor of Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, Joy Bloser, research assistant and interpreter, andGu Yu, videographer.

The Trip to Mexico

A research trip to Mexico is the second phase of the project, designed to further uncover the influence of Mexican Muralism on Contemporary Chinese art and to further that artistic dialogue. Two Chinese artists will visit Mexico City and Guadalajara with our research team. The goal of the trip is to firstly, interview scholars and living artists who participated in the early Mexican – China exchange, secondly, to further expose Chinese artists to the Mexican aesthetic, and thirdly, to facilitate an artistic dialogue and collaboration between Mexican and Chinese artists. This research trip will be videotaped. Documentation of this trip will be used for a future touring exhibition that demonstrates the significant cultural interchange between these two societies and its continuing impact on Chinese art.

It was more than fifty years ago that Chinese artist, Yao Zhonghua declared, “We [Chinese Artitsts] are having feverish dreams of making murals!” Now in February 2008, Yao Zhonghua is joined by professor and fellow Chinese muralist Sun Jingbo here in Mexico City to travel with the Canadian Chinese art curator, Shengtian Zheng and his research team. During which time, this delegation of Chinese artists and researchers will visit historical Mexican sites, the great Mexican murals, museums, private collections, and meet with artists and scholars integral to the historical reconstruction and re-establishment of Chinese-Mexican Collective Visual Culture.

2008 Trip Update

As the second phase of the Mexico – China research project to investigate Mexico and China’s exchange in 20th Century, our team: two well-respected Chinese artists, Mr. Yao Zhonghua and Sun Jingbo, Chinese-Canadian filmmaker Gu Yu, research assistant Joy Bloser, and curator and organizer Mr. Zheng Shengtian all traveled to Mexico City and Guadalajara from February 18 to 29, 2008, while there we accomplished all our initial goals and established invaluable connections with Mexican scholars and Mexican art institutions. Time in Mexico provided great encouragement for our research, and further supports our theory of the influence of Twentieth Century Mexican art over contemporary Chinese art.

A Tour de Force in Mexican Muralism

In the course of 11 days, our team visited more than 19 sites housing one or more murals by Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Jose Clemente Orozco and Rufino Tamayo, as well as others. We traveled to 11 different museums, including the Musuem of Anthropology, Frida Kahlo’s House, Diego Rivera Museum at Anahuacalli, Dolores Olmedo Patino Museum and Instituto Cultural Cabañas. Personal connections allowed the team to visit with four artists in their studios: Rina Lazo and Arturo Garcia Bustos, both friends of Rivera and muralists in their own right, who met with Mr. Zheng in 1982 when he visited Mexico. Mr. Ricardo Martinez, painter and sculptor active in the 50’s and still working today, showed us his most recent paintings and private collection of pre-hispanic artifacts, and finally Mr. Arturo Estrada, whose work traveled to China in 1957 with the Mexican Exhibition, offered invaluable resources in our search for Mexican art missing since its exhibition in China.

Goals Accomplished

An important first step in establishing connections and sharing information, we accomplished all four goals of this trip:

1. Established connections with the official governing art bodies of Mexico. With an introduction from Cultural Attaché of Mexico to China, Mr. Edgardo Bermejo, the team met with the Cultural Ministry of Art and Culture in Mexico. Their representative, Mr. Americo Sanchez planned and accompanied the team to the majority of art sites and coordinated many meetings with artists and scholars. Mr. Sanchez provided enthusiastic encouragement for our project and proposed a collaborative approach for future research. Additionally, the Cultural Consul of China to Mexico, Mr. Sun Jiamu, dined with us and offered his support as well in this project.

2. Initiated collaboration and the exchange of information between leading Mexican scholars and research team. The Cultural Ministry of Art and Culture in Mexico organized a meeting in which Mr. Zheng, accompanied by Artists Sun Jingbo and Yao Zhonghua, presented to date research to a room of directors of galleries and museums, curators, researchers, and art critics familiar with Mexican Muralism. They unanimously agreed this was a research project worthy of further investigation and offered their respective organizations as open door resources and hosting institutions. Material exchange between scholars was agreed upon as well.

3. Exposed Chinese artists to the vast array of Mexican murals and contemporary art. With the help of Mr. Sanchez and art dealer Pablo Goebel, our team accomplished a tour-de-force of Mexican Murals, Modern Art, Public Art and historic Mexican art. The team was granted private access to multiple collections, private viewings of important art works, all proving to be an excellent and thorough introduction to the heroic tradition of Mexican art.

4. Facilitated the continuation of collaboration and artistic exchange between Mexico and China. The final days of the research trip were filled with enthusiastic future plans on both the Mexican and Chinese sides. Both Chinese artists, Professor Sun and Professor Yao, expressed serious interest in organizing future trips with Chinese artists to Mexico. The cultural institutions in Mexico also pledged their support of future collaborative projects.

Future Plans

With cooperation from the Cultural Ministry in Mexico and many Mexican scholars, an important materials exchange has already begun. Our research team will continue to collect printed material and primary resources concerning the Chinese-Mexican artistic exchange, building our bibliography and text collection. The Sala de Arte Publico Siqueiros invited research assistant, Joy Bloser, to return to Mexico City in order to continue searching for materials about Siqueiros visit to China in the 1950’s.

Documentary filmmaker, Gu Yu, is presently editing taped interviews from both Mexico and China to create a trailer of our project and is continuing to develop the documentary proposal.

Connections made in Mexico have also helped solidify plans for a major traveling art exhibition presenting our research and findings to the international public in a visual forum.

The Sponsors
Our trip would not be possible without the sponsorship of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Long March Foundation in Beijing, China, the generous support of Stephanie Holmquest and Mark Allison, and the haudenschild Garage: Eloisa and Chris Haudenschild. Thanks to Pablo Coehlo Fine Arts for planning and hosting this trip. We would also like to thank the Mexican Embassy in Beijing and the Mexican Cultural Ministry for their unending support.

For more information please contact
Zheng Shengtian: shengtianz (at) hotmail (dot) com
Joy Bloser: jbloser (at) gmail (dot) com