Identity through ArtAn exhibition at Fondation
Louis Vuitton

27 January – 2 May, 2016
written by Felicity Carter


Zhou Tao, One Two Three Four, 2008


Fondation Louis Vuitton aims to protect and promote artistic creation on both a national and international scale. Their latest exhibition entitled, “Bentu, Chinese artists at a time of turbulence and transformation” pays homage to China’s contemporary art scene. Consisting of artwork from twelve of the most prominent main-land Chinese artists, the exhibition perfectly demonstrates the sheer range and diversity of a nations creativity. Co-organised with the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art of Beijing, this exhibition is the first retrospective dedicated solely to the contemporary Chinese art scene in France in the past decade. The term “Bentu” itself directly translates into “native soul” and as implied, this showing puts the spotlight on home grown artists, all of which respond to a time of post-Mao avant-garde art, influenced by Western culture.
According to LVMH, the exhibition is a “dialectical concept that aims to reconcile the local and the global in a universalist and critical rediscovery of identity.” The twelve artists in this showing come together to reflect China’s complex art scene, as “Bentu” also signifies their individuality, all producing artwork that cannot simply be categorised into a concept or movement. Using a wide variety of techniques and media, drawn from local tradition and culture, as well as innovative technologies, these artists reveal the complexities of a society that is in permanent evolution. Foundation Louis Vuitton is set to move into classical and contemporary music, cinema, performances and poetry this year to further explore the thriving cultural arts sector in China. “Bentu, Chinese artists at a time of turbulence and transfor- mation” is just one aspect of a wider programme by the Fondation, like separate exhibitions that will show Ai Weiwei’s famed Tree installation and Zhang Huan’s prodigious and meditative Buddha sculpture.
Additionally, Among the artists exhibited at Bentu, there’s Cao Fei, a digital media artist who through her work, reveals the culture and daily life of the Chinese people born after the Cultural Revolution. Through her work she highlights the chaotic economic and social changes of her generation, with an ever-present underlying theme of her yearning for a utopia. This is apparent through RMB City, Fei’s specially designed virtual utopia, in the online world of “Second Life”. She uses this experimental platform to push the boundaries between virtual and real existence. In My Ideal, which is a part of Bloodline, Zhang Xiaogang depicts a worker, peasant, businessman, student and soldier in his signature style. Inspired by family photos from the Cultural Revolution and European Surrealism, he plays with the concept of identity. Centred to his work is “family” and the traditional portrait format is translated into paint. His subjects are both nameless and timeless, in a subdued, grey scale palette for a dream-like sensibility.

Huang Yong Ping, one of China’s most avant-garde artists, is impressively self-taught. He looked to figures such as Joseph Beuys an artist and art theorist, John Caget the music theorist and philosopher and lastly, Marcel Duchamp, who played with Dadaism and Surrealism in his own artwork.
His L’Arc de Saint-Gilles,which depicts deer split in two, perfectly expresses the bold and excessive nature of his work. The Dusk Of Teheran, shot in Teheran by Tao Hui is a video that reveals a sentimental dialogue between the pop-singer Anita Mui and her fans whilst on stage at a concert, just a month before her death. In the back of a taxi, in Iran, a local actress restages the poignant conversation. Tao Hui attempts to seek for the differences and common points presented by people from different nations and areas in the same story frame, and also hopes to show the attitude of Iranian women toward life and emotion, and review the free space for people under the governance of totalitarianism. Yen Pei Ming’s painting, All Crows Under The Sun Are Black, portrays a foreboding image of Acropolis of Athens and a flock of crows. Layers of black on black, punctuated with grey, just deepens the connotations of Greece’s economic crisis.


Zhang Huan, Sudden Awakening, 2006




Zhang Huan is considered to be one of the most provocative contemporary artists working today. Starting out, Huan specialised in painting, after graduating from Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts in the early 90s with an advanced degree in traditional painting techniques. He later explored performance art for which he became most renowned, before making a comeback into painting. National Day is his view of Tiananmen Square on the anniversary of Mao Zedong’s declaration of the People’s Republic of China, a meditative reflection on identity. In Sudden Awakening, his evocative use of incense ash epitomizes both detritus and religious ritual. He references the history of his native China depicting political, intellectual, and religious – in particular commenting on Buddhism. Alluding to the ancient Chinese proverb that “all crows are black under the sun,” he suggests that whoever you are and wherever you go, ultimately people everywhere are the same. Zhao Tao’s piece, One Two Three Four, which was produced for the seventh Shanghai’s Biennale, looks at the morning ritual of staff meetings in over 40 companies in the vicinity of People’s Square. All employees move to the corporate chants, their purpose to encourage team spirit and corporate loyalty. Tao uses the very ordinary, day-to-day settings to highlight mundane life and the video itself becomes apart of this ritual.