With the amount of protests and editorials regarding the Beijing Summer Olympics, it’s hard not to have China on the mind. Despite what your political standings are, China is big right now; culturally, economically and artistically. China Design Now, currently on at the V&A Museum in London, is the latest attempt in bringing awareness of Chinese art and design to the public eye.
Those who pay attention to the architecture world will be well versed in the cutting edge design of the National Stadium, built specifically for the 2008 Olympics and designed by renowned architects Herzog and de Meuron. But modern architecture isn’t the only thing China has going for it right now, and the China Design Now show brings together everything from photography to fashion.
The exhibition aims to explore the creative aspirations of China over the last twenty years by taking the visitor on a journey along the country’s coastal cities. It all begins with graphic design in the southern city of Shenzen, where in the early 1990s, graphic designers began to break out of the box and follow more contemporary directions. Referred to as the “frontier city” this part of the exhibition is devoted to the recent boom in Shenzen’s economy and culture. The center of China’s printing industry, Shenzen is the birthplace of contemporary Chinese graphic design. Today Chinese graphic design speaks a different language, no longer influenced by political propaganda but by global and local influences embraced by the younger crowd of artists.
Next comes Shanghai, nowadays known for its fashion forward inhabitants, which blends urban aspects of both east and west. Shanghai has long been China’s most international city; in the 1920s it was often referred to as the “Paris of the Orient.” A lot of firsts were had here; the first motor car, the first feature film and the first qipao dress. This aptitude for setting a trend has made Shanghai a hub for artists, designers and other creative souls wishing to dream big.
Finally, the exhibition adventures into Beijing, the host of the 2008 Olympics, which has played a major role in modernizing and changing the capital. But before the modern design of the Olympics descended upon the city, Beijing was already China’s political and cultural center; the city has been home to the imperial palace and court since 1420. The cultural center now finds itself on a fast track to modernization, with architects and urban planners working outside of the parameters of the state system. The works exhibited in China Design Now clearly show the vision of a modern China, which the country is eager to project to the rest of the world.
Art plays an integral role in culture, and above all, the show is a reminder that China is constantly on the move forward, economically and artistically. As the country continues to develop “made in China” will not only refer to the clothes we wear; it will come to represent design and a new creative energy that the western world will find difficult to underestimate.
China Design Now continues through July 13, 2008.