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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Abstract Art in 1980s Shanghai /

  • Author(s): Jung, Ha Yoon
  • et al.

My dissertation, "Abstract Art in 1980s Shanghai," examines political, conceptual, historical, and formal aspects of abstract paintings produced in Shanghai from 1976 to 1989. This study argues that Shanghai abstract paintings were formulated in the unique historical and sociopolitical context of post-Mao Shanghai and, thus, have unique characteristics that do not always fit the conventional definition of abstract art. More specifically, it studies what kind of ideological meaning that abstract art held in the People's Republic of China (PRC), how the 1980s Chinese art circle defined abstract art, which cultural and historical background existed that allowed 1980s Shanghai abstract art to blossom, and how five select Shanghai artists, namely Li Shan (b. 1942), Zhang Jianjun (b. 1955), Qiu Deshu (b. 1948), Yu Youhan (b. 1943), and Ding Yi (b. 1962), each expressed their own understanding of abstract art through their paintings. Through this study, I ultimately aim to reveal that there are multiple versions of abstract art that are incongruent with its institutional description, thereby expanding our understanding of abstract art. This dissertation consists of five chapters. The first chapter, an introduction, establishes the problem with the canonization of the term, "abstract art," and the single narrative of its history; provides a historical background of 1980s China; explains the modern art history of Shanghai; and locates this study in the broad range of scholarship. The four subsequent chapters focus on the ideological meaning of Chinese abstract art constructed by China's socialist identity; the discourses of abstract art in 1980s China; the unique cultural history of Shanghai; and the artworks of five representative Shanghai abstract artists. I conduct extensive visual analyses of abstract paintings and scrutinize historical, social, political, and cultural aspects of 1980s Shanghai. As the first English publication on 1980s abstract art in China, my dissertation sheds light on one of the most significant, yet often overlooked, if not neglected, concepts in not only the global history of abstract art but also the art of modern China

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