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Art Review: "Salon Salon" Reclaims a History All But Forgotten

Academic but acutely necessary, "Salon Salon: Fine Art Practices from 1972 to 1982 in Profile—a Beijing Perspective"

What makes this mouthful of an exhibition interesting is that it brings together a breadth of quality art from a period that usually doesn’t get much attention. When we showed our gallerist friend the exhibition brochure, she immediately rolled her eyes and threw it back: It’s “too boring” a period for her. But here a fresh and objective perspective on this oft-derided period of art adds something new.

First, the challenge: Inside-Out Art Museum is located in the outer reaches of Haidian and with the nearest metro station a full 8km away. This is a museum visit that will require a bit of motivation and preparation. While you’re at it you might want to read up on your 1970s and 1980s Chinese art history, as "Salon Salon" rewards a bit of pre-visit preparation. As you can probably tell from the title, it’s a pretty academic show and a scarcity of wall texts means that there’s not much in the way of helpful explanations. The accompanying texts that do exist are invariably long, dense, and difficult to follow. But they do reward close reading, so we highly recommend the beautifully designed exhibition brochure for a mere ¥20.

"Salon Salon" is spread across three large spaces, each with a slightly different focus. The bottom floor presents a sort of chronology of the period; the brochure describes the time from 1972 through the mid-80s as “a critical transition in China’s political history, but also a relatively cohesive artistic period.”

The middle floor looks more closely at the artistic styles of the period, focusing especially on the numerous art groups that formed. The top floor looks at the utilization of physical spaces, specifically art in hotels, homes, and on the streets. Of the many new discoveries on display, two of our favorites were Liu Huanzhang’s beautifully sinuous sculptures and Li Huanji’s colorful and energetic murals.

Typically this period is only covered by official government institutions, meaning that a standardized and often biased point of view is presented. Therefore it’s both refreshing and necessary to see exhibitions like "Salon Salon," since it allows for different opinions, plus less redacted and more objective histories. That’s exactly what the expertise of the curator of the show, museum director Carol Yinghua Lu, allows for.

Find it: “Salon Salon: Fine Art Practices from 1972 to 1982 in Profile—A Beijing Perspective” at Inside Out Art Museum, through May 7

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