ZKM | Museum of Contemporary Art, 09|17|2011 – 02|05|2012
Zhou Tiehai
* 1966 in Shanghai (CN), lives and works in Shanghai

Will/We Must, 1996

There are many stories about art and life; the artist’s ego (for the most part, male) in the struggle for recognition and authentic expression has provided the dramatic material for numerous novels and films. In contemporary art, which places the analysis of its own conditions and its social significance in the foreground, such clichés rarely play a role. However, this by no means suggests that conflicts only take place on the level of discourse. In his video Will/We Must, Zhou Tiehai shows episodes from being in contemporary world in which things occur quite emotionally and in terms of destiny. However, the short scenes have nothing to do with a naive reproduction of sensitivities; a break emerges simply by the fact that Zhou Tiehai presents the episodes with the stylistic devices of a black-and-white silent movie: the travails of the film characters to survive with their art in their surroundings, their city, and also in the ominous world beyond the Chinese borders, make the episodes seem like narratives from a past epoch to which we now cast back with a sense of ironic distance or nostalgia. But the scenes themselves are precise observations of the contemporary art system: if Zhou Tiehai stages the artistic happening as a military crisis or pens a melodramatic one-liner – “I’ll take part in any exhibition you have!” –, he finds an appropriate allegory for art and life between strategy and the everyday. (JB)

Press Conference, 1997

Since the turn of the century contemporary art from China has become a sought-after commodity and a popular exhibition object. Thanks to their trendy or provocative aesthetics the works were easy to place and testified to a critical awareness, which was readily accepted by the international art scene as an example of art that was both very topical and at the same time “different.” However, the market and the opportunities to exhibit internationally were controlled, also for Chinese artists, by power structures that were by no means characterized by equality and transparency. “The relations in the art world are the same as the relations between states in the post-Cold War era,” proclaimed Zhou Tiehai in 1997 in front of flags from countries all over the world while on a graph and in a press statement the value fluctuations of “Zhou Tiehai shares” were presented; after the initial and short-lived enthusiasm of European investors the price had stabilized and will remain a good investment in the future. With a later series in which he implanted “Joe Camel,” the advertising mascot of the Camel cigarette brand, in classic European paintings, Zhou Tiehai actually was represented at most of the international exhibitions of Chinese art and in corresponding collections. In Press Conference Zhou Tiehai demonstrates how the global art scene, in spite of its emancipatory ideology, is determined by the strategies – and the vagaries – of the art market. (JB)



Will/We Must, 1996


Press Conference,