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China Syndrome

PARIS — Contemporary art curators and other black-clad frequent flyers who go anywhere to see what’s next have found their new avant-garde. It’s embedded in the chaotic urban centers of the nascent market economy of the world’s...

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PARIS — Contemporary art curators and other black-clad frequent flyers who go anywhere to see what’s next have found their new avant-garde. It’s embedded in the chaotic urban centers of the nascent market economy of the world’s most populous country, China.

The clanging, trisyllabic names of Chang Yung Ho, Wang Jian Wei and Yang Fudong have already been bruited about at Documenta, the Venice Biennale and other edgy art fairs.

Now these three protagonists of the Beijing scene are having a breakthrough moment in the West, says Hans-Ulrich Obrist, curator of a new exhibition of their work, entitled "Camera," at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. The same three will be back in Paris in June as part of a massive show of contemporary Chinese art at the Centre Pompidou.

"It’s not that they are unknown," says Obrist, whose ceaseless travel and frequent collaborations with Rem Koolhaas and others make him the art-world equivalent of a cool-hunter. "Fudong has been at Documenta. Wei has been in [the] Sao Paulo [Biennial]." And Ho, an architect, had two projects on display at the prestigious International Architecture Exhibition in Venice. But to a larger public, their names probably won’t mean much.

"They are not yet as well known as Matthew Barney or other Western artists of the same generation," acknowledges Obrist. "Camera" is not another "information show," as Obrist calls large group exhibits that show a few works from many different artists. Instead, this is a timely, in-depth view of three key figures in contemporary Chinese art.

"We didn’t want to have an exhibition about Chinese art at the moment," says co-curator Vivian Rehberg, adding that the show is structured in such as way as to "avoid the cliché of an exhibition that speaks only to a Chinese identity."

The catalyst for the show was Chang Yung Ho. A practicing architect and lecturer at Harvard University, he knew Obrist from previous collaborations, while Wei and Fudong were friends from Beijing. Ho explains that the title of the show is a bilingual pun on the English term for a photographic apparatus and the Latin word for "room."
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