Chu Yun: “soft monumentality”

“Make a Great Work” [by Chinese artist Chu Yun] is an urban intervention on the level of soft monumentality. Soft monumentality is a concept developed by Wu Hung in his reading of the political and discursive uses of the architecture of Tiananmen Square. It is intended to encompass the flower displays, temporary amusement rides, ephemeral photo backgrounds, and other public sculptures that began to be placed in the square during National Day under the Jiang Zemin regime; all of this was opposed to the hard monumentality of earlier interventions in the political texture of the space, including the Monument to the People’s Heroes and, most notably, the Mao Zedong Mausoleum. Perhaps somewhat enamored with Jiang-era politics, Wu Hung claims that such techniques are akin to Michel de Certeau’s tactics of the everyday, and opposed to the strategic manipulations of architectural hegemony. Though he may have been overly optimistic, Chu Yun now brings a new version of soft monumentality for the age of soft power.

As an aside, “soft monumentality” is a term which could have been used to describe the soft works of American Pop artist, Claes Oldenburg (although I’m not sure that this exact conjunction is used with his work, but the words are separately applied to them). His pieces favoured humour over the gravity which art was expected to display at that time, and this seems to parallel, at least in its intentions if not it’s exact material or methods, the flowers amongst the monuments. The humour (in the sense of lightening the mood, perhaps) and the play with scale, if taken metaphorically, can be seen to be present over both these interventions.

Peckham, Robin (2010) CHU YUN IN FRANKFURT (2 OF 3). Kunsthalle Kowloon. Weblog. [Online] Available from: [Accessed 2010/02/05].


Breaking Forecast: 8 Key Figures of China’s New Generation Artists is a groundbreaking exhibition presenting new and recent works by the most compelling emerging and mid-career artists working throughout China today: Cao Fei, Chu Yun, Liu Wei, MadeIn, Qiu Zhijie, Sun Yuan & Peng Yu, Yang Fudong and Zheng Guogu. The first of its kind, the exhibition affirms UCCA’s dedication to supporting the development of Chinese art. Combining genres of painting, performance, photography, video and installation, this exhibition will define the future of Chinese contemporary art for years to come. [emphasis mine]

And “emerging” is always a tricky word to define, too.

It’s not that I don’t recognise that this is an interesting group of artists (and, in my opinion, it’s always good to see more of Chu Yun), and we’ve all been guilty of the odd bit of hyperbole in our time, but that last sentence…

The self-aggrandisement that’s coming through in this piece, and the way UCCA are presenting the artists in this text, actually seems to be using them as a side-line to UCCA’s own historical positioning statements – and of course that’s exactly the (overt or covert) purpose of exhibitions (and—by association—the artists involved in those exhibitions). My issue is not with the uses to which exhibitions (or artists) can be put, but with this wording that seems to revel in this programme. At the end of the day, it’s quite exciting to find a text which is so blatant about this.

To be fair to UCCA, my issues with them deserve a more considered post, but this particular press release was too galling to let slip by.