US $4.8 billion in 2016. These numbers comprise 38 percent of the global art market — the U.S. covers 28 percent, in comparison. The vision of contemporary Chinese art platform CNCREATE is to become the No.1 place to find out about this particular art scene. Founded by Misha Maruma and Lucas Brennan in 2015 as a WeChat blog, CNCREATE now moves from the digital into the physical space.
Temper Magazine Editor – and China Underground aficionada — Elsbeth van Paridon puts Maruma in the hot seat as we enter the stage that is CNCREATE.
Brennan in 2017 left the platform to pursue his own projects, but Maruma in 2018 moved to London to start developing CNCREATE in the UK — with a small team based in Shanghai. The platform intends to become a place where young Chinese artists and foreign artists in China can access the international market.
CNCREATE (CN stands for China) is a contemporary Chinese art podium originally available in blog-form, but now gradually transforming into a full-fledged consultancy undertaking.
“China buzzes with a sense that art projects, from designing logos to bespoke coffee bar murals, is something that can be done on the cheap. There’s always someone willing to do this just to get their name out there.”
The Contemporary Explorers
The platform began as an exploration of China’s contemporary art world in English language, yet from a Chinese perspective. Initially a WeChat blog, CNCREATE has developed into a platform for foreigners in China to learn more about Chinese contemporary art and for those residing outside China to learn what’s happening in the world of Chinese art.
Additionally, Maruma and his team offer foreign artists in China and Chinese artists (some with virtually no English language skills) the opportunity to come together and share ideas, develop relationships and do that thing art does… Bring together like-minded people.
The Business That Is China Art
Powering through, CNCREATE in the past three years has moved from the digital into the physical realm. The artistic organ is currently building up a consultancy to work with contemporary galleries in China. These include French, Canadian and Singaporean owned art spaces. The aim is to connect these galleries with contemporary art venues across London and take things to the next level by developing different projects. The #现代艺术# (Chinese for “contemporary art”) squad also works closely with a number of art collectors to help guide these through the boom that is China’s Art Business.
“China buzzes with a sense that art projects, from designing logos to bespoke coffee bar murals, is something that can be done on the cheap. There’s always someone willing to do this just to get their name out there. Well, as we always say… You can’t pay the rent with exposure, now can you?” Maruma declares. Correctamundo.
Consequently, in terms of promoting or distributing artists, CNCREATE wants to be a trustworthy platform. “One where artists know we are on their side.” Maruma continues, “If you work with CNCREATE, you know you’ll be treated right and once you’ve become part of our family, you’ll have access to our extensive contact base across China — from Shanghai to Beijing, Wuhan to Nanjing and Dalian to Chengdu.”
The CNCREATE Artist List
There is no such thing as the “ultimate” CNCREATE artist. The budding consultancy works with and represents artists from all different areas of the art world. Take a look at the following names, as to give you an idea:
- Zhang Zhoujie stands at the forefront of computer aided conceptual design art. This guy is at the next level of what’s possible in sculpture;
- Lu Yang is only in her mid-30s, but has already represented China at the Venice Biennale 2015. She is a new media artist and has, and we’ll take Maruma’s word for this, a “wicked sense of humor”. Lu finds herself at that apex of so-called “proper” art and is also able to work with commercial brands. The latter is something many Chinese artists actually feel comfortable with;
- Qu Fengguo is part of the late 80s movement in Chinese contemporary art that first explored abstractness. His lifelong “Four Seasons” project uses traditional Chinese solar terms as his point of exploration. Oil paint is his medium.
“Fashion too in China is huge. Spring to mind are designers such as Chen Peng, GOFEFE and Joyce Wang who feature at Shanghai Fashion Week year after year,” Maruma points out, “Special mention must go to Wang for being at the forefront of sustainable fashion, especially in working with China’s ethnic [Guizhou] minorities to make sure their [indigo] ink-making techniques are not lost.”
China’s Underground Graffiti Culture
China in 2018 boasts a massive and ever-evolving underground graffiti culture. This phenomenon is a rather unbelievable one, considering that if you put a poster on a public Chinese wall it will be taken down in minutes. As Maruma puts it, “China Street Art is huge and there are simply too many people involved to mention. Big name foreign street artists receive invitations to visit China all the time, think Parisian-based Seth. In the next five years, we will see street artists coming out of China who will prove to possess global appeal.”
What’s exciting about China’s contemporary art scene is that despite its relative infancy, it shows promising potential and room for growth. The question becomes: What sets apart China’s increasing crop of post-80 and -90 artists?
“One thing that makes the new crop of young artists different, is the fact that they aren’t driven by politics,” Maruma explains, “If you look at China’s art scene prior to the retirement of Deng Xiaoping in 1989, you’ll notice just how many artists are producing Mao Zedong-influenced works. It’s no surprise, really, if you grew up during China’s Cultural Revolution days [1966-1976].” What you see, is what you get. As it were.
China is starting to lead the global pack in areas such as technology. This newfound “leadership” is probably one of the reasons why new media art ( 新媒体艺术 in Chinese) is rapidly gaining popularity in China.
Mao motifs are extremely common in pieces by Liao Yibai, Zeng Fanzhi, Fang Lijun, Feng Mengbo and Yue Mingjun, among others. Nonetheless, anyone born after 1979, and most certainly after 1990, is more inclined to follow some pop culture features. Especially those coming in from Japan and South Korea.
The Coming Out Of Chinese Creativity
Art and design coming in from 21st Century China reflect the final stages of the society’s development, i.e. a coming out of creativity. And that is precisely what CNCREATE wants to show.
The Middle Kingdom has long carried the stigma of being King of Copy-Paste Land. Nowadays, the nation is starting to lead the global pack in certain areas, such as technology. This newfound “leadership” is probably one of the reasons why new media art ( 新媒体艺术 in Chinese) — counting a varied set of categories such as digital art and interactive art technologies among its offspring — is rapidly gaining popularity in China. When it comes to using technology in art, Chinese artists find themselves in pole position. And innovative, they are.
“I think before [the days of tech headship], the professional pursuit of art wasn’t considered to be a ‘real’ career in China. Much like sports,” Maruma elaborates, “That perception is now changing and this altered awareness gives Chinese youngsters chance to express both themselves and their culture. The opposite of what an artist is expected to do from a western perspective.”
Envision The Future?
As of now, the contributions of China Art to the global scene and the new Made In China label at large remain to be seen. “The future of Chinese art and fashion is unwritten and can be anything they want it to be. I’m not here to judge. I’m along for the ride!” Maruma concludes.
Maruma and companions were made for doing just that: Show what is happening in the China Art world as it happens. Who knows what the Chinese contemporary art scene will look like in 10 years? One thing is a given: Exciting, out and proud, it will be.
CNCREATE for one and for sure will be there. Reporting about it, representing Chinese artists outside China and helping foreign galleries and artists to get into what will be the biggest art market in the world. On both a digital and physical level.
Just envision the greatness of creation and so it shall be.
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Featured Image: Piece by Lu Yang. Image via CNCREATE
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After tackling Beijing for some six years where she worked for China International Publishing Group, she spent a moment in time moseying down steep alleyways and writing about their fashionable and underground features in Hong Kong.
Van Paridon most recently managed to claw her way through a Europe-based academic endeavor called "Journalism". 'Tis in such fashion that she has now turned her lust for China Fashion/ Lifestyle and Underground into a full time occupation.
Van Paridon hunts down the latest in Chinese menswear, women’s clothing, designer newbies, established names, changes in the nation’s street scenery, close-ups of particular trends presently at play or of historical socio-cultural value in Chinaplus a selection of budding photographers.
Paired with a deep devotion to China’s urban underground scene, van Paridon holds a particular interest in the topics of androgyny, the exploration of individuality and the power that is the Key Opinion Leader (the local term for “influencers”) in contemporary China.