No.1 Artistic Area Hegezhuang Village, Cuigezhuang Town Chaoyang District, Beijing, China
Nascent Displacement: A miniscule black-haired baby catches a wave on the stem of a giant (maraschino?) cherry, slides buoyantly down the slippery slope of a glistening gargantuan hot dog, and sleeps peacefully in a sleeping-bag-scale wrapping of Wriggles gum. These bizarre scenarios are all brought together in the solo show of Kang Can at the Museum of China Cultural Arts.
Kang grew up in Chongqing, and was educated at the Sichuan Fine Art Institute where he graduated four years ago with a B.A in Oil Painting. One might say that he’s a bit of a baby himself— indeed one who has ridden the giant wave of Chinese contemporary art’s success to the shores of international exhibition, having already shown in Europe and the U.S. What is perhaps more pertinent about Kang’s biography, however, is that he grew up an only child as one of the first generation of kids affected by China’s infamous one-child policy. This issue is, ostensibly, the topic of the exhibition.
The subjects that contextualize the miniature babies are all emblems of the rising Chinese middle class who are now more able to afford “modern” foods, amenities, and even modes of transportation. The titles of the works bring such meanings home with the by now classic irony that characterizes so much of Chinese contemporary art. An image of a baby gripping (or sliding off) an exploding cork is called “Farewell Earth!,” while another canvas entitled “High Point” features a baby perched on the glistening nose of a lustrous golden haired pet dog. There is no subtlety in this critique of urban China’s petite bourgeois (xiaozi).
A few of the paintings get more explicitly political. “Sleep Walking,” for instance, shows a baby sleeping soundly on the back of a ‘Beijing Olympics 2008’ toy airplane, heading for a darkening sky. Or, continue with the somnolent theme, consider “Fond Dream Series,” a painted resin sculpture that depicts another sleeping child, this time blanketed by a little (or in this case comparatively big) red book. It’s hard for a seasoned viewer of cynical realism to see these pieces as particularly fresh.
Formally speaking, the paintings are not bad. The social issue at hand, however, might have been handled in a manner somewhat less flip. Or, perhaps that’s exactly the point. Kang’s paintings are as superficial as the cultural impulses at which he levies his critique.
-- Liang Pu
(All images courtesy of the artist.)