East meets West at Sydney's White Rabbit Gallery in Eternity (2013) by Xu Zhen and Madeln Company. Buddhist images are transformed into the heads of Classical Greek sculptures in an artwork which crosses cultural boundaries.
Sometimes art grabs your mind in a relentless grip.
A overdue personal discovery of Sydney's White Rabbit Gallery last week has done exactly that. For those who are unaware of the place and its mind-boggling collection of contemporary Chinese art, it is a revelation.
The Gallery is also a reminder that with the increased presence of China in Christchurch and New Zealand as a whole, this is the time to take a wider and better informed interest in the impact of the mega-nation, beyond the economic and political, discarding fusty pre-conceptions and looking beneath the stereotypes. It's definitely worth the effort.
Established in 2009 by Kerr and Judith Neilson to focus on contemporary Chinese art created after 2000, the self-supporting gallery has become a focus for one of the world's most important collections of 21st century art created by a new, restless generation of artists.
Within the walls of a beautifully converted former Rolls Royce service depot in Sydney's Chippendale lies extraordinary works by a new generation no longer content to be confined within political barriers. The Neilson collection currently contains 1400 works by 5000 artists from Mainland China, Taiwan and throughout the Chinese diaspora. The evolving size of the Neilson collection means that it can show two new exhibitions annually.
These artists have rejected the "officially approved" people's art to give us subversive, edgy, disturbing and often visually-stunning creations; worlds away from perpetually smiling Maoist workers, kitschy babies and arid academic landscapes. The works in the White Rabbit Gallery reflect the darkly ironic, sharp edged and earthy Chinese humour which for generations has been a hidden antidote to oppression and deprivation.
For anyone who frequently finds contemporary Western art smugly introspective, emotionless and fast running out of a relevant artistic vocabulary, the impact of contemporary Chinese artists hits you like a speeding Holden. From Xu Zhen and Madden Company's epic 2013 installation Eternity with its deceptively chaotic fusion of Classical Greek sculpture and Chinese Buddhist figures, to the eerily apocalyptic world of Chen Wei's Drunken Dance Club (2015) it's powerful stuff.
What I especially relished was the sheer range of works which extends from installation art to drawing, photography and painting. There's not one tedious moment or reflection of artistic ennui in the place.
These young artists defy censorship and political disapproval to give China and the world something rare in contemporary art – potent emotion.