Dip your toes into the shapes, colours, sounds and textures of contemporary China with this special exhibition at the MAK museum. Chinese Whispers presents art as both an aesthetic experience and a commentary on politics and culture, all framed by the influence of history. Impressive, no?
- Contemporary Chinese art from the Sigg collection
- Features numerous top artists, including Ai Weiwei
- Open Jan 30 – May 26, 2019
- Adult ticket* to the MAK currently €12 (or free entry with a Vienna Pass)
- See also: MAK Museum | Events in Vienna
What’s Chinese Whispers all about?
First, the exhibition simply presents remarkable pieces of contemporary Chinese art by numerous artists, including the likes of Ai Weiwei, Cao Fei, Feng Mengbo, He Xiangyu, Liu Ding or Song Dong. The works include paintings, photos, sculptures, videos, and other installations.
(© Ai Weiwei, Photo: Bruno Bühlmann, Foto Jung, Sursee/Switzerland)
The highlight has to be Weiwei’s “Descending Light with A Missing Circle” (see photo above), which lands with a metaphorical thump to dominate the exhibition. It’s one of several pieces by the renowned artist and activist.
Many other displays caught my eye. For example:
- “Waterfall” – a large monument draped in melted wax by Zheng Guogu, like a wine bottle in an Italian restaurant
- “Bonsai No. 19” by Shen Shaomin – all twisted roots and a crown of leaves
- “Untitled” – a work of calligraphy by Jia where the characters also form waves of ink and a line seems to cross them out when viewed from the right angle
Some displays are really quite startling, such as Zhao Bandi’s Venus statue made from panda excrement.
Beyond the aesthetics, Chinese Whispers presents works that address their sociocultural context. So you can begin to get a feel for how artistic output both reflects and comments on developments in Chinese history, culture, and politics.
Weiwei’s Descending Light, for example, suggests the decay of society with the red colour no coincidence. Shaomin’s Bonsai parallels the practice of ritual foot binding. And Jia’s calligraphy work harks back to Mao’s reform of the Chinese language, where thoughts are manipulated by the availability (or not) of appropriate words to express them.
This sociocultural commentary means several works could likely never be shown in China.
Finally, the exhibition contrasts the modern pieces with items from the MAK’s own collection of older Chinese art, so you can judge for yourself the influences of the latter on the former.
Weiwei’s bowl of hand-painted porcelain sunflower seeds, for example, sits across from a porcelain food vessel from the 18th century.
The exhibits stem from the collection of Uli Sigg, a former Swiss ambassador to China, a long-time follower of contemporary Chinese art, and the man who has put together perhaps the most representative collection of that art available in the world.
Dates and tickets
Chinese Whispers occupies the MAK’s main exhibition hall from Wednesday, January 30 to Sunday, May 26th. You only need the usual entrance ticket to the MAK museum, also available as a smartphone ticket* (or enter for free with a Vienna Pass). The MAK opens Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 am to 6 pm (10 pm on Tuesday nights).
All information displays are bilingual (English and German).
How to get to the Chinese Whispers exhibition
The main MAK article has transport tips. The museum sits in the centre of town, opposite the Stubentor subway and tram stop.
Address: Stubenring 5, 1010 Vienna | Website