The art world is fascinated with what's going in China, and so is documenter Robert Adanto. His project The Rising Tide attempts to set the scene while showcasing the biggest names in contemporary Chinese art.
"They view it as fresh and exotic...They lack the understanding needed to judge Chinese art."
Artist Yang Yong makes the above assertion in Robert Adanto's documentary The Rising Tide to critique the growing trendiness of contemporary Chinese art in the international market. The "they" in question are cosmopolitan art dealers, collectors, and critics who eagerly consume contemporary Chinese (mostly Beijing and Shanghai) art as the hottest thing to hit the biennale circuit. Yet, as Yang Yong points out, there is a lack of understanding because the West still judges "non-Western" art according to their Western taste.
The Rising Tide does much to fill in that gap of misunderstanding between Western audiences and the Chinese contemporary art scene. With the input of historian Gordon Chang, the documentary contextualizes industrialized, globalized China as the framework for a wide Western audience to view works by Chinese artists active in the last ten years. One of Chang's main points is that post-Mao regime, Chinese artists produce works under less censorship. Most of the independent artists presented in the film aggressively push the limits of that freedom of expression.
The strength of the documentary is Adanto's choice to avoid being what he calls a "Michael Moore-style filmmaker" who pedantically forces a one-sided message onto the audience. The director recedes, allowing artists and gallery directors working in China to talk about the movement in which they are the active players. Although there is minimal narration by actress Rosalind Chao, Adanto's strategy was to select "art that did not need narration" and could speak for itself. The result is a generously open-ended discussion of contemporary Chinese art that accepts complexity, contradiction, and all things curious and curious-er.
The bulk of the footage is the art itself. The film plays like an art festival set to an ambient soundtrack, running image after image of photography, video, installation, performance and internet art. It is difficult to tell the documentary apart from the art. Is this shot of the Bund scenic, artistic or both? The confusion between the documentary and the art is indicative of the continuity between context and conceptualism. In other words, China's position as the next superpower is in direct relationship to the "rising tide" of Chinese artists, a generation who grew up under the mixed blessing of rapid urbanization, as opposed to the Cultural Revolution. (Con't http://www.asiaarts.ucla.edu/071130/article.asp?parentID=83009)