'China Design Now' Offers Cultural Overview

In the lead up to and under the pretext of this summer's Beijing Olympic Games, China-themed events are proliferating around the globe.

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In the lead up to and under the pretext of this summer's Beijing Olympic Games, China-themed events are proliferating around the globe. The largest is Britain's expansive, yearlong "China Now" series, a highlight of which is the "China Design Now" exhibition running now through July 13 at London's Victoria & Albert Museum.

"The levels of energy and experimentation in China are at an all-time high, and over the next five years we are going to see its global impact," says co-curator Lauren Parker, adding the exhibition focuses on the pioneers of design who are shaping China's cultural landscape.

"China Design Now" encompasses contemporary graphic design, fashion and architecture through 200 pieces by 100 different designers, of whom 95 are Chinese. After London, the 10,760-square-foot show, cocurated by Zhang Hongxing, will travel until at least 2010 with stops in the U.S., South America, the Middle East and possibly elsewhere in Asia. "China Design Now" is structured chronologically and geographically as well as by discipline, under the headings "Frontier City," "Dream City" and "Future City."

The show's narrative begins with the "Frontier City" of Shenzhen, where graphic design and visual culture first emerged in the mid-Eighties, then continues with the appearance of an aspirational middle class and "lifestyle" trends in the "Dream City" of Shanghai. It concludes with the architectural transformation of "Future City" Beijing in preparation for the Olympics.

"We want to present a balance," said Parker. "The show is not a celebration of contemporary Chinese culture, but rather a presentation of that culture and its context. We are not showing the newest, but rather giving a broader overview. We tried to be representative."

The fashion component comprises the designers Lu Kun, Han Feng, Wang Yiyang, Ma Ke, He Yan and Zhang Da, who represent styles ranging from the nostalgic to the avant-garde. "Han Feng, He Yan and Lu Kun have three pieces included each, and Ma Ke just has one," Parker detailed. "Zhang Da and Wang Yiyang have created new work for the show, a mixture of on mannequins and lying flat."

Parker admitted the decision to use Shanghai as the focus for the fashion section was as much about imagery as the realities of the industry. "The interest in Shanghai is due to its role, things stemmed out from there. Beijing was very important in the Eighties and Nineties, but the next generation chose Shanghai as a base, partly due to its adjacent textile industries [in Zhejiang and Jiangsu Provinces]. And designers like Han Feng when coming back to China chose Shanghai for the commercial opportunities."
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