Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Art in Beijing: National Museum showcases other 'Ai'

By Rebecca Chao and CY Xu, CNN
November 30, 2012 -- Updated 0227 GMT (1027 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ai Jing, a popular singer, represents one school of China's contemporary art scene
  • She is the first Chinese contemporary artist to hold exhibition at National Museum of China
  • She is no relation to fellow artist Ai Weiwei
  • Her works are typically wholesome and uplifting

Beijing (CNN) -- Must art always serve politics?

To audiences overseas, contemporary art in China is typified by Ai Weiwei, the most trenchant critic of China's artistic and political restrictions.

But not all Chinese artists subscribe to Ai Weiwei's approach.

Ai Jing (no relation), once a popular singer-songwriter, is back in Beijing from a long hiatus, this time representing one school of China's contemporary art scene.

Her style is mostly uplifting and features politics as an afterthought, if at all.

Small wonder, perhaps, that she is the first Chinese contemporary artist to hold an exhibition in the iconic National Museum of China, next to Tiananmen Square, which is better known for revolutionary history exhibits than modern art.

Ai Jing's solo show opened just a few days after the Communist Party concluded its leadership transition in the Great Hall of the People, across the sprawling square.

Ai Jing\'s 200 works inside the National Museum include installations of art panels, paintings and sculptures.
Ai Jing's 200 works inside the National Museum include installations of art panels, paintings and sculptures.

"We chose Ai Jing based on our understanding of her artwork and of public expectation," said Chen Lüsheng, the deputy director of the National Museum. "We believe Ai Jing's art pieces will connect China's 5,000 years history with modern art."

We believe Ai Jing's art pieces will connect China's 5,000 years history with modern art
Chen Lusheng, deputy director, National Museum of China

Chinese art-lovers know Ai Jing best as a pop singer and song-writer.

The 43-year-old Ai has cut five albums since 1992, becoming a widely popular folk and pop singer in the 1990s.

She moved to New York in 1997 and spent nearly a decade there honing her skills as an installation artist.

Her work has been featured in several New York art galleries, including the Urban Art Infill, which exhibited her piece "Sounds of New York".

Richard Vine, a New York-based art critic who has been visiting China since 2000, likes the universality of "My Mom and My Hometown," a tapestry of woolen patches knitted by Ai's mother and bedecked with the English word "LOVE".

"It expands outwardly, first for the family, community, nation and then the world. With one piece like this, she is able to touch both poles," Vine said.

Ai does not shy away from love's racier themes. One section shows square panels printed with "I love sex," and "love me, suck me."

She looks at the darker side too.

"The Tree of Life," an installation art, depicts a lonely raven perched on a leafless oak tree made of disposable chopsticks.

Her Warhol-inspired pop-art reproduces Marc Riboud's picture of "Flower Girl," which shows a woman holding a flower in front of gun-toting soldiers during an anti-war march in the United States during the 1960s.

"We hope to present the public with multiple styles of modern art to show that not all art is the same," Chen of the National Museum said. "Ai Jing may not be the most popular contemporary Chinese artist, but she is one of the most special."

Ai Jing's works are typically wholesome and uplifting, unlike many Chinese contemporary art works now popular overseas.

The paintings of Zeng Fanzhi, for example, are typically bold and edgy, sometimes dark -- and selling for millions of dollars in galleries and art auctions. (An art collector has called Zeng "The Jackson Pollock of the 21st century.")

Lin Tianmiao is now known for her bold surrealism, using naked body casts of herself or building a walk-in human "womb" strewn with disfigured bodies. She recently had her work featured at Asia Society in New York.

Also popular overseas are the irreverent creations of Ai Weiwei, some of which are blunt commentaries of what he sees are the dark side of life in China.

"We don't want extremist and esoteric pieces," Chen said. Ai Jing's message of love, he says, is what the Chinese public wants.

Her theme of love may seem "corny," art critic Richard Vine agreed, but "it's not something that she is just falling into thoughtlessly. It's a very considered conviction that this is after all the best response to the difficulties of life."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 0413 GMT (1213 HKT)
Beijing says only candidates approved by a nominating committee can run for Hong Kong's chief executive, prompting criticism that it stifles democracy.
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
China warns the United States to end its military surveillance flights near Chinese territory.
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0312 GMT (1112 HKT)
China has produced elite national athletes but some argue the emphasis on winning discourages children. CNN's Kristie Lu Stout reports
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 0513 GMT (1313 HKT)
Chinese are turning to overseas personal shoppers to get their hands on luxury goods at lower prices.
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 0908 GMT (1708 HKT)
Experts say rapidly rising numbers of Christians are making it harder for authorities to control the religion's spread.
August 11, 2014 -- Updated 0452 GMT (1252 HKT)
"I'm proud of their moral standing," says Harvey Humphrey. His parents are accused of corporate crimes in China.
August 6, 2014 -- Updated 1942 GMT (0342 HKT)
A TV confession detailing a life of illegal gambling and paid-for sex has capped the dramatic fall of one of China's most high-profile social media celebrities.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 0410 GMT (1210 HKT)
President Xi Jinping's campaign to punish corrupt Chinese officials has snared its biggest target -- where can the campaign go from here?
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 0712 GMT (1512 HKT)
All you need to know about the tainted meat produce that affects fast food restaurants across China, Hong Kong, and Japan.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 0230 GMT (1030 HKT)
Some savvy individuals in China are claiming naming rights to valuable foreign brands. Here's how companies can combat them.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 0911 GMT (1711 HKT)
Is the Chinese president a true reformist or merely a "dictator" in disguise? CNN's Beijing bureau chief Jaime FlorCruz dissects the leader's policies
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 0344 GMT (1144 HKT)
With a population of 1.3 billion, you'd think that there would be 11 people in China who are good enough to put up a fight on the football pitch.
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1124 GMT (1924 HKT)
China's richest man, Wang Jianlin, may not yet be a household name outside of China, but that could be about to change.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
When President Xi Jinping arrives in Seoul this week, the Chinese leader will have passed over North Korea in favor of its arch rival.
July 1, 2014 -- Updated 0656 GMT (1456 HKT)
The push for democratic reform in Hong Kong is testing China's "one country, two systems" model.
ADVERTISEMENT