1989 China Avant-Garde exhibition

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The 1989 China Avant-Garde exhibition[1] was the first and only time avantgarde artists appeared as a large group at the National Art Museum of China, the country’s most important arts venue. After the exhibition, helped by art critic Gao Minglu,[2] an individual businessman in Beijing who had contributed part of the fund for the exhibition, bought the works of over a dozen artists including Wang Guangyi, Zhang Xiaogang, Ye Yongqing, Ding Fang, Mao Xuhui and Zhang Peili, at a price of 10,000 renminbi, or about $1,200 a piece. Song Wei, who later set up one of the country’s first private art galleries, has since disappeared and it is unclear whether the works he acquired survived.

The 1989 Avant-Garde exhibition is widely regarded as a seminal moment in the history of contemporary Chinese art. With ongoing performance art and unprecedented installations, the environment was more chaotic than the museum's usual offerings. Zhang Peili recalls: "More than your typical art show, it really looked more like a farmer's market....What mattered that day wasn't the art, or the show itself. Everybody knew that we were making history. We were totally investing in our roles as actors on a stage where anybody could suddenly become a star."


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