How Contemporary Art Goes Viral in Qingdao
In 2020, I heard the following story at the 3rd Qingdao International Contemporary Art Exhibition. A lady named Wang Lei, who used to work at Tsingtao Brewery Group, resigned from the company and set up a gallery and ran a homestay hotel. Like many Qingdao natives, she was once a total stranger to contemporary art but gradually grew into a big fan of it. With passion and ability, she has become a promoter of contemporary art. She has not only invited several famous contemporary artists to give lectures at the art gallery and other public spaces, but also popularized the knowledge of contemporary art among the public through online livestreaming. She is one of the contemporary art lovers in Qingdao and her promotion activities are also a fine example of the continuous influence of Qingdao International Contemporary Art Exhibition in the society.
With the rapid development of Qingdao in recent years, contemporary art is emerging in this city as one of its new cultural hallmarks. Qingdao International Contemporary Art Exhibition, which has been held for four sessions, is becoming more creative and popular year by year. It has attracted not only the attention of a growing number of domestic artists, but also the recognition of a large number of international artists. In 2021, the artworks in the exhibition are from nearly 20 countries and regions, setting a new record in the number of exhibits. More to my pleasure, contemporary art, while playing a role in transforming people's conventional thinking and perception, is integrated into all aspects of the city's development and the people's lives. To develop contemporary art is not a choice. It is something the city is bound to do.
The phenomenal rise of contemporary art in Qingdao goes beyond a pure art expression, and reflects the cultural accumulation, social progress and people's needs coming altogether. Art is born of and evolving with the times. In some sense, the development of art in turn guides, catalyzes and promotes social progress. Contemporary art, or more plainly, the art of today, covers all artistic categories and permeates into every aspect of city construction and people's lives. It is closely connected with everyone who enjoys the fruits of contemporary civilization. It's hard to imagine how lackluster a modernized city would be without contemporary art, and how dull life would be for someone living in the modern society who ignores or rejects contemporary art. Therefore, our times have given contemporary art the unique mission to link the past, the present and the future, and to act as a symbol of modernization and civility. By embracing contemporary art, we are embracing contemporary civilization. Through enjoying contemporary art, we are being nurtured by art.
Qingdao offers a fertile ground for the growth of contemporary art. As a city that combines antiquity and modernity, Qingdao is young as a city established for only some 100 years, and old as the habitat of Dongyi people who started to live in this area 8500 to 7,500 years ago and created the Dawenkou Culture, Longshan Culture and Yueshi Culture here. Qingdao is an open-minded and inclusive city. With contemporary buildings of exotic styles of over 20 countries, Qingdao is renowned as a “museum of world architectural styles”, “oriental Switzerland”and“Geneva in Asia”, thus claiming a unique status in contemporary architectural history. Qingdao today, as one of the first Chinese cities open to the outside world, is showing new appeal and glamour. The city brims with fashion and modernity with a robust economy, prosperous culture, beautiful eco-environment, and AI-enabled smart city efforts. Living in a place where the fusion of historical heritage and the development of modernization, as well as a combination of Chinese and Western elements, are happening all the time, people in Qingdao have developed a character featuring openness and inclusiveness. It is only natural for them to accept and love contemporary art. With all those factors, a solid foundation has been laid for contemporary art to take off and excel in Qingdao within several years.
The creation of a flagship exhibition of contemporary art in just four years is credited to the joint cooperation and concerted efforts of the peers in the art field from different organizations. Shandong Artists Association founded its Contemporary Art Committee in the latter half of 2016. The first Shandong (International) Contemporary Art Exhibition was held exactly that year and was quite a hit. In January 2017, I went to Qingdao and discussed the feasibility of establishing Qingdao Contemporary Art Committee with the main leaders of Qingdao Federation of Literary and Art Circles. Not long after that, the first municipal-level committee of contemporary art in Shandong was set up, and the 1st Qingdao International Contemporary Art Exhibition was held that year. Now here we have its fourth edition already. Qingdao Federation of Literary and Art Circles, despite funding constraints, allocates nearly half of its annual grants to support the contemporary art exhibition, which reflects the vision of its leadership and lays the foundation for the continuous holding of Qingdao International Contemporary Art Exhibition. Since the second session, the 1902 Contemporary Art Museum in Qingdao Textile Valley has become the permanent venue for the Qingdao International Contemporary Art Exhibition. This place was the site of the textile plant built in 1902 and has turned into a large complex featuring cultural industry elements and smart technology exhibitions. Mr. Yan Yong, Chairman of the Textile Valley Development Co., Ltd., after discovering the value of the contemporary art exhibition at a very early stage, offered to make 1902 Contemporary Art Museum(In 2021, the 1902 Contemporary Art Museum was renamed the 1902 Art Museum) the venue for the event. After that, the Textile Valley has invested a large amount to upgrade facilities and surroundings of the venue to make it up to the standards of higher-level art exhibitions. A number of visionary companies have also joined Mr. Yan in supporting the exhibition which is now a show supported by the government, sponsored by enterprises, and open for public participation. Shibei District, where the Textile Valley is located, has listed the exhibition as a key cultural project after reviewing it from economic, cultural and tourism perspectives, and has pledged support for the exhibition in funding, organization and coordination. In addition, the contemporary art exhibition is also an important part of the city's endeavor to build a world-renowned fashionable city. Therefore, it is not by accident that the exhibition has become a hallmark event. That is the outcome of the concerted efforts of all relevant sides highlighted by strong support and effective mechanism.
Where there is a will, there is a way. Speaking of Qingdao International Contemporary Art Exhibition, I'd be remiss if I fail to mention Lin Jianye, Vice President of Qingdao Artists Association and Director of its Contemporary Art Committee. As a passionate and aspiring artist, he has rallied a dozen partners who share the same aspiration and are impressed by his charming character, wisdom and enthusiasm. They have come together and formed a professional team. From creativity, curating, promotion to execution, they worked closely with each other while each one played a clearly defined role. To ensure meticulous preparations, they show a great sense of responsibility, selflessness and devotion. They have proved that nothing is impossible with dedication, sacrifice and belief in the greater good. As one of the sponsors, I have witnessed the whole process of how this exhibition has started from scratch and grown into a groundbreaking show. I am touched by the hard work and great job of all the colleagues, and inspired by the exciting success and influence of the event. There is good reason to believe that the show has a bright future. This confidence comes from the following three features of the event.
Feature one, with high standard and grand perspective, the exhibition is held in a way that makes sure it stands at the forefront of contemporary art exhibitions. Contemporary art is a new art form that keeps abreast with the times. Against the backdrop of industrialization, urbanization and globalization, only by claiming the vantage point can we have an unobstructed vision and see unseen opportunities. Qingdao International Contemporary Art Exhibition refused to be mediocre from the very beginning. It focuses on times-related themes and stays forward-looking. The themes cover the culture and ecology under urbanization and the relationship of city spirit with people, life, nature and environment. It encourages artists to think both globally and locally with a great passion, so as to create artworks that reflect the mainstream culture of the times and unique visual expression. Undoubtedly, the quality of a show depends on the quality of the works displayed and that would have a lasting influence on the reputation of the exhibition. Qingdao International Contemporary Art Exhibition, which has been held for four sessions consecutively，starts out showing works of local artists in Shandong and Qingdao, and now artists from more than 30 provinces, regions and cities have come forward to take part. In 2021, the participation of artists from nearly 20 countries in the event has elevated the show to a new level in terms of global participation and quality of artworks. Especially, with the launch of the outstanding young contemporary artist program, young and middle-aged artists have contributed over 2/3 of the works displayed. They represent a majority of contemporary art creation and their creations are an inexhaustible source of contemporary artworks.
Feature two, the model is being innovated with continued effort to cultivate a flagship exhibition of contemporary art with regional characteristics. Qingdao International Contemporary Art Exhibition is different from other shows in many aspects. For example, it is neither completely organized by the government nor by any enterprise alone, but co-sponsored by professional art institutions, that is, provincial and municipal contemporary art committees. The event is relatively independent, flexible and efficient, which is conducive to highlighting the professionalism and academic nature of the exhibition by cutting out middle links. In this way, the specialized organizations can do what they are best at with the auspices of the governments, participation of businesses, and support from all social sectors. Many hands make heavy work light. The way Qingdao International Contemporary Art Exhibition is held offers a valuable reference for other exhibitions.
With perseverance, the annual Qingdao International Contemporary Art Exhibition is becoming an increasingly mature brand. Every session presents its own new ideas, themes, forms and approaches. The exhibition of 2021 is themed “Sailing·Fashion”. Fashion is what contemporary art and Qingdao have in common. In November 2020, the 4th RCEP Leaders' Meeting was held. The RCEP Innovation Pilot Zone set up in Qingdao would bring in new development opportunities. In this context, the exhibition of 2021 has established a new idea of “looking eastwards” and has invited the Asian Artists Association to plan the show together. Works created by artists from many different countries are displayed at the exhibition. Such integration of a city's development with an art show reflects the social responsibility of contemporary art in this era.
Feature three, cross-city collaboration led by Qingdao allows every player to give full play to its own strength. Shandong is a late bloomer when it comes to contemporary art. Yet the growth momentum is very robust. Qingdao, as a frontrunner in reform and opening up of Shandong, is the first city in the province to set up its contemporary art committee under the artists association. Following Qingdao, Yantai and Weifang also set up their own successively. The three cities, close to one another geographically and each having its own advantages and characteristics, are natural allies. They have swiftly formed a community for win-win cooperation in the region with the same belief and aspiration to develop contemporary art. Each of the three cities has its own contemporary art show. The Contemporary Art Committee of Yantai Artists Association has even held the show in the ROK and Italy. Without any doubt, Qingdao plays a leading and exemplary role in contemporary art exhibitions among the three. The art committee under the artists associations in three cities have established a mutually beneficial mechanism and strengthening cooperation in hosting exhibitions, academic exchanges and exchange of personnel. Whenever an event is put on by any of the three cities, the other two will give their full support and cooperation, thus creating a unique collaboration model in contemporary art development of Shandong.
In conclusion, I would like to introduce another extraordinary man to you. His name is Meng Xianwei. Ten years ago, Mr. Meng and I had a long talk about contemporary art and we didn't meet each other again ever since. Just recently I've learned that Xihai Art Museum has been officially opened in Qingdao West Coast New Area. That is a contemporary art museum with a floor area of 17,000 m2. To my pleasant surprise, the museum happens to be a masterpiece by Mr. Meng Xianwei. And more interestingly, the first exhibition put on in that art museum is a contemporary art show. That is a choice made by Mr. Meng and by our times. I cannot help thinking to myself: Qingdao's beauty, fashion and abundance have given a fertile and solid ground for the development of contemporary art. Qingdao International Contemporary Art Exhibition is like a ship setting sail with fair winds and following seas. I am confident that an even brighter future awaits.