The Ideal Standard
皮力（1999）PI LI 1999
Zhong Ming, a prose write who lives in the sichan (basin) area where Yang Mian resides,describes a modertn city of China in a requiem to the memory of Haizi like this:”The style of urban construction is in conflict,bold imitations abound,full of political illusions, complicated life experiences,polite but shrewd celebrities, a gradual deterioration of female beauty amidst the windy temperate zone of this continental monsoon climate, busy and tired faces,successful tax dodgers, dubious middle-class people,pertentious conservatives clumsy intentions ahd behavior upon stepping into first class society,frequent social activities, banquets, ceremonies, glories and dreams, frivolity and heavy anxiety”. The reason for including this quote here,which was written some 10 years ago, is not only because of its shockingly accurate forecast of the state of china’s culture in the 90s, but also because to a large extent, Zhong Ming’s thoughts can be applied to Yang Mian’s work; both of which descrilb precisely the social and cutural background of china’s modern art.
Since1989, two artistic styles which focus on popular culture were born form china’s new art movement, political pop ahd Gaudy Art.These two styles exemplify the art world’s proclivity to classify China’s contemporary art movement by using developmental threads from wetern art history as its frame of reference. The temporary locale of political pop is politics,whose defining characteristice reflect equivalent and parallel motifs found in popular culture and political symbols.In comparison, Gaudy Art is a two-way distortion of popular culture and political symbols, whose temporary locale is still politics, though the oplitics here is mixed with an additional ingredient:one’s personal memories. However the two styles may described by critics, they are both aimed at ideology, and popular culture is just the medium they use, rather than their focus. Or one could argue that their only concern is the deconstruction of main stream ideology, and popular culture, in this sense, is nothing but a means to an end.From the beginnig of 1994, popular art or consumer art has irrevocably become de facto dominating force in all walks of life in mainland chinese society If Chian’s political pop is believed to have some kind of significance because of its ability fo predict the recognized effect of popular culture,then Gaudy Art under the same thinking has actually declined to the level of handicraft which can only satisfy the voyeuristic psychology of ocerseas, kitch-seekng,”sight-seeing tourists”. This is because Gaudy Art, for many Chinese observers,bears little relationship to the changes in contemporary Chiese society.On the other hand, others have argued that no art form delbves deeper into the “Chinese characteristics”of popular culture than political pop.What remains for Gaudy Art may be only a frame of political reference. However, despite the political Pop/Gaudy Art classifications, the fact remains that since the 1980s,China’s artists have not paid enough serious attention to popular culture. Young painters like Yang Mian who were born in the 70s. are actually the beneficiaries of the changes in contemoprary China .In many respests, popular culture now flows through their veins. However, they differ from the last two generations of painters in their in their skepticism towards popular culture’s ability to become their envoy of happiness. The profoundness of Yang Mian lies in his thinking that popular culture is perhaps adouble-edged sword that can erase the oppression of power and influence which exists around us.But during the process of providing diversion,popular culture has evolved into a new form of power that creates new means of oppressing those who have ostensibly been liberated from the old power via popular culture.
We can say that as a young painter who feels the overwhelming force of consumer culture at a much deeper level than others.Yang Mian is able to surpass the narrow,misleading zone of ideology and form a relatively calm means of teflecting on popular culture.His early work “street Fashion Comments”is a revision of the text of the Tang Dynasty painting “Group portrait of Noblewomen”. “Group portrait of Noblewomen” is a classic representation of china’s ancient people,and in particular, the noble women of the Tang Dynasty, Yang Mian has changed the original ancient noble women into today’s fashionable ladies in his painting, while remaining true to the traditional structure and colors of the classical painting. Compared with the peaceful and elegant posture of the figures in the original work,all the contemporary “aristocrats of consumerism” appeat in Yang Mian’s work with mobile phones, fashivable clothes,and leather bags of famous btands, all looking extremely busy, how ever still finding time to strike elegant poses for themselves. It can be said that starting from this specific work,Yang Mian’s direction of artistic creation was determined, i.e. his creative voice has been extended to “fashion”, using his best talents to capture certain characteristics of chines society in transition as reflected in fashion’s rapid changes. Initially, the creation of “street Fashion Comments” bave Yang Mian the possibility to endlessly compare the interests of our era by graphically revising classical texts. However, Yang Mian gave up such practices and instead went back to the source of fashion and the dreams ahd behavior of normal Chinese citixens. In this way,he has turned the visual angle of his creation to“advertisement”by uniquely reinterpreting these ads as the new“standard”.
Yang Miang reinterprets images of everyday advertisements in his own style. All the figures in his paintings have lost the ad-quality brilliance they once had,They are weakened and faded by the painter’s use of various techniques untill they are teduced to a flat angle, or until a point where they no longer really exist.Even though the paintings are inspired by real ads,they now appear to be covered in a layer of man-made mist. These painterly techniques are no different than an ad man’s display to the consumer of an illusory likeness of the “standards” thant dominate our life . Here, a smile is no longer a kind of facial expression, nor a display of one’s mood.On the contrary, the smile is mask, and indicator of the distance between reality and dreams. The more brilliant the smile,the farther the distance will become,and the higher the standqrd is for one toreach.Finally,the essence of Yang Mian’s works is ground to amonochromatic slash of vibrant color that appears repeatedly throughout the paintings.The mist of theose wonderful monents remains for his audience as a dream-like possibility for the vievwe to unveil and approach acertain glory. However , the appearance of this slash of color also forecasts a denial of reality , to a point beyond any salvation. We can even regard it as an intentional in flivtion of damage and cruelty,which confirms the vast distance between today’s” ldeal standard” of beauty and our own reality.
Yang Mina’s Paitings are a bizarre mixture, which rely on a combination of popular advertisement, social criticism and an academic’s perspective. His paintings do not simply appropriate the popular ad-images directly. By using the academic’s painting skills which technically shift the images, he recreates the image in an even more elegant fashion than the original. For artistis like Yang Mian , who were brogght up in a commercial culture, the relationship between academic and popular culture is as close as the relationship between family and social chlture, where the latter in both cases sometimes has more influence than the former. Finally , the painterly shift in images created by Yang Mian produces a two-way social criticism: a snub to academics and a challenge to commercial culture.
The “ideal standard” tefers to Yang Mians’s challenge to social standards as they measure up to reality .If we say that his works ask the question: “What are society’s standards?”, Then the unspoken words of the works are: “Who is the producer of these standards?” From the socialist point of view , the existence of advertisement by iself does not necessarily signify the establishment of certain standards;a smile by itself is only a form of seduction .Examined in dividually , Yang Mian’s works may cause some viewers to suspect these are just shallow pictures of pretty girls, but once such images become too ubiquitous, shallowness will begin to hide in the intimacy of people and root deeply into the subconscious of the entire society. Yang Mian’s works. by using satire, trace the overabundance of this shallow existence and the hypocritical nature of such intimacy.In this respect, Yang Mian’s works attain a level of much deeper meaning and reflect the individualistic characteristics of the new generation of painters.
Resisting classification as either Gaudy Art or Political Pop, Yang Mian’s work represents a deeper understanding of popular culture.Instead of simply using existing images as kind of artistic technique in itself, he goes much further and truns ad images into his own raw materials. In doing so, he manages to avoid the danger of appropriation.Sone observers have commented that excessice appropriation may have been the tragic destiny of Chinese painters of earlier generations who fell victim to the phenomenon of being pulled in carious directions by both Eastern and Western political thinkers and art brokers. With the post-cultural revolution opening of China, western art critics’ perspectives on Chinese modern art may have distorded the spirit of open and fair criticism among China’s own contemporary art critics to a kind of heightened defense of non- westrn ideology. This then became entangled in Western political views and used as evidence of Western cultural invasion,Yang Mian’s works do not fall into this trap and instead display a unique two-way perspective. His critical view is in response to the question of why the commercial aspects of culture have become an entire culture unto themselves,while at the same lies with in people themselves. Interestingly, this phenomenon exists not only in china,but also appears in japan the united states, Germany or any other commercial cultuer in the world, finally yang mians talent also lies in his ability to reflect a world-wide phenomenon from the unique perspective of a Chinese solial problem.In yang Mian’s works, we view on one lever, a true Chinese scene, the trus psychology of mainland Chinese people, and on the other, the possibility for China’s contemporary artworks to bring some pieces of China’s genuine, adnd more importantly, equally valid reality, to the world art stage.