An exhibition view of Family Salon section.
The origins of Family Salon Art may be traced back to the socio-political backdrop of the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). During this politically tumultuous period, groups of artists distanced themselves from state mandated Social Realism in favor of more expressive and avant-garde forms. Groups, such as the No Name Painting Society, traveled to the rural outskirts of Beijing as well as Yuanmingyuan and Purple Bamboo Park to paint en plain air landscapes and still life pictures. Their philosophical “art for art’s sake” paintings rejected officially sanctioned Socialist Realism, the only approved artistic style during this time.
Following a short period of relaxed art regulation, the 1983 Anti-Spiritual Pollution campaign once again targeted Western modernism and abstract art. Artists working in these styles were forced to show exclusively within their own apartments to small audiences of close friends and other artists. Many group exhibitions took place in the apartments of foreign friends and diplomats, as their residences were deemed safer than the homes of Chinese artists. Family Salon Art became a vehicle of civilian cultural exchange as artists such as Zhang Wei and Li Shan hosted gatherings and small scale exhibitions attended by foreign diplomats, film directors, and other cultural figures. One of the most important cultural exchanges occurred in 1985 when American artist Robert Rauschenberg staged an influential solo exhibition at the National Art Museum of China. While in Beijing, he visited the “Seven Man Exhibition” held at Zhang Wei’s apartment.
By the mid-1980s, avant-garde art in China began to focus its attention on public space and Family Salon Art began to lose its appeal. While private space maintained an important function within the context of contemporary art, by this time, it was no longer considered the primary mode of artistic creation and exhibition. Artists adopted public modes of creation and presentation to address and challenge social issues within China’s changing socio-political landscape. Reproduction paintings included in this exhibition are hung in a manner similar to salon exhibitions staged in the 1980s as an attempt to recapture this sense of private space, crucial to the significance of early apartment art exhibitions in China.