Art For Government’s Sake

Audrea Lim examines the unusual art scene in the burgeoning city of Chongqing, China:

On its main stretch, Tuya Street, ten-story apartment blocks with shops and eateries on the ground floor have been painted over with cartoon aliens. A three-eyed monster towers over a pharmacy, its mouth full of fangs. A monkey-man in muscle shirt squints down at hipster art students spilling into the road from the side of a building. Another is dotted with black-rimmed, menacing blobs. Down the street, a Lisa Frank-style unicorn poses, five stories tall, amid rainbows and clouds.

“Tuya” means “graffiti” in Chinese—the name is recent—and this street, three-quarters of a mile long, may be the longest stretch of public art in the world. It’s also a government-sanctioned “art district,” centered around the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, which was established in 1940. Huangjueping has been a natural gathering place for Chongqing’s artists ever since, and thanks to its remoteness from Beijing, it has a reputation for producing artists independent of the art establishment.

But as Lim learns, “cheap rent came with non-negotiable obligations, like participating in government-run exhibitions unrelated to their work.” Lim’s conclusion:

It was art propped up by the state in order to burnish the state’s credentials, and fill its coffers—art not for art’s sake, but for the sake of urban development.

(Photo by Drew Bates)