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Art in Smog     cover photo

Art in Smog 2018

Recommended with reservations

Distributed by Innervisions25, 23 Pembroke St. #1, Newton, MA 02458
Produced by Lydia Chen
Directed by Lydia Chen
DVD , color, 88 min.



College - General Adult
Art, Art History, Artists, China

Date Entered: 08/02/2018

Reviewed by Jeanette Aprile, University at Buffalo

Lydia Chen’s Art in Smog is a follow-up to the director’s 1991 film, Inner-Visions: Avant-Garde Art in China, and may be more meaningful when viewed in relation to the earlier work. The 2018 film revisits the featured artists from Inner-Visions, now thriving in a modern-day China dramatically transformed since the era of Deng Xiaoping. The artists discuss their work and the development of their careers, as well as the philosophical foundations of their art. There is a certain irony to their stories as they trace the development of their careers from young artists to established professionals speaking from glamorous high-rise apartments and chic office spaces in modern China.

The film provides five insightful case studies on the careers of four artists (Xia Xiaowan, Chen Hui, Mushi, Su Xinping,), and one curator, (Cui Cancan). The progression of the film feels disjointed at times, however, as it abruptly shifts between conversations, cities, and between time periods, particularly when footage from the earlier 1991 film is shown.

Chen’s work is a unique personal account of professional artists in China in the form of conversations about life, and the role of art. Viewers expecting a retrospective of contemporary Chinese art, or a treatise on the state of art under a restrictive regime will be disappointed. The artists’ stories are connected to the politics and state of China itself in a more nuanced way, most obviously in the film’s title “Art in Smog,” referring to the dissonance associated with China’s fast-paced growth. The artists ponder the increasing disconnection with the Self, and seek philosophical resolution through their art.

The international perspective of this film will bring depth and inclusivity to art-focused collections. The artists’ stories and insight into their own careers could also be of biographical value. This film is recommended with reservations, for college and university libraries with an art or area-studies focus.