The J. Paul Getty Museum recently acquired photographs by some of the young artists emerging from the reinvented society that is present-day China. This exhibition is built around those acquisitions and loans from private collections.
During the Cold War era following World War II, China was a closed society. The Cultural Revolution (1966–76) sought to destroy the artistic and intellectual heritage of centuries of imperial rule. Mao Zedong, the founder and longtime leader of the People's Republic of China, died in 1976. By 1980 his successor, Deng Xiaoping, had begun to pull back the curtain. However, China was still largely rural and poor, the Communist Party was omnipotent, censorship was severe, and artists remained under suspicion. The fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 and the uprising in Beijing's Tiananmen Square the same year caused further, more radical, change. Deng Xiaoping called for a new period of Reform and Opening.
In the past 20 years, China's economy has made huge strides to become the second largest in the world. The rapid transition has meant great progress in the way art is taught, made, and talked about in China's flourishing urban centers. Artists who went abroad to find freedom of expression have returned to establish studios and provide mentoring. In an effort perhaps to quiet rebellion and encourage tourism, the ever watchful state now furnishes space, such as the former factory that is now the arts complex 798 in Beijing.