Xing Danwen's "Wang Jin, Marry a Mule 2"

Xing Danwen, “A Personal Diary”
At Haines Gallery, San Francisco, Calfornia 
Exhibition ran through March 27, 2010

Photographer Xing Danwen is recognized as one of China’s most influencial contemporary female artists. This is the first and only scheduled U.S. showing of an important series of her photos, “A Personal Diary of Chinese Avant-Garde Art in the 1990s.” The images document the subversive performance art scene—which comprised many of Danwen’s friends—that took place in Beijing’s “East Village” from roughly 1992 to 1994. Art historically then, the series is significant for chronicling a formative period of China’s contemporary art scene.
But artist fame and historic importance aren’t the primary reasons to see these works; they are good art. The images are powerful, bizarre, beautiful, charged—pushing Chinese cultural convention and comfort boundaries. Subjects are naked, as in the four-panel Liu Anping, Untitled Gesture; play with gender roles and identity, as in Ma Liuming, Performance 2 and Zhu Ming, Mona Lisa 3 , which show male artists exploring the feminine; and otherwise test social limits, as in Wang Jin, Marry a Mule 2—a photo, dazzling with hot pink, of Jin in tuxedo and his mule “bride”. In Zhang Huan, 65Kg, Huan is suspend naked in chains from the ceiling with 250 cc of his blood dripping into a hot pan.
These are pictures with punch. Learning about the harsh experiences of several of the artists depicted, as well as Danwen—incarceration, poor living conditions, interrogation—because of their creative output adds to the narrative.  
Danwen’s intimate and confrontational style has appropriately been compared to Nan Goldin’s. But the similarities end there. These images are crisp, colorful, and large (60-by-40 inches framed)—a celebration of rebellious experimentation.
These images don’t let you go easily. And sometimes they even make you smile.

(Exhibition recommendation orginally posted in the Visual Art Source newsletter.)