Researching the development of 'underground' art exhibitions and publications in China


Judith Neilson PhD scholar Xiaoya Yang works in the White Rabbit Collection Research Library at Dangrove

Judith Neilson PhD scholar Xiaoya Yang works in the White Rabbit Collection Research Library at Dangrove

Xiaoya Yang, the recipient of the Judith Neilson PhD Scholarship in Contemporary Art in the University of Sydney’s Art History Department, is currently researching seminal publications and exhibitions in the 1990s that involved Chinese artists, critics and curators who have since become household names. As New York’s MoMA explains:

"With artists Xu Bing and Zeng Xiaojun, Ai Weiwei produced The Black Cover Book (1994), which contains reproductions of iconic twentieth-century artworks by Marcel Duchamp and Jeff Koons, translations of existing art-historical and critical texts, and various artists’ submissions and essays. The White Cover Book (1995) and The Grey Cover Book (1997), co-edited by Zeng, feature more politically oriented content, including works by contemporary Chinese artists and interviews with Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer. 3000 copies of each book were published, quickly spreading throughout China without any official system of distribution." (Source: Museum of Modern Art, New York)

Later, Feng Boyi and Ai Weiwei curated an exhibition in response to what was happening in the Chinese artworld. In Chinese it was called ‘Uncooperative Attitude’ but it became famous (or perhaps notorious might be more accurate) in English as the ‘Fuck Off’ exhibition:

Xiaoya introduces some of the historical events informing her research:

"Black Book [《黑皮书》] could be traced back to 1993. Three visual artists, Zeng Xiaojun [曾小俊  b.1954], Ai Weiwei [艾未未  b.1957] and Xu Bing [徐冰 b.1955], initiated this project. And then Feng Boyi [冯博一  b.1960] with a degree in history, joined the team by Xu’s recommendation and played the role of acting editor."

Cover of the rare 'Fuck Off' exhibition catalogueCover of the rare 'Fuck Off' exhibition catalogue

"They started planning, collecting, editing and paying out of their own pockets to produce the book. In the autumn of 1994, 2000 copies came into the world and circulated with the title of ‘internal material’ [内部资料] for Chinese contemporary art. Consequently, Xu and Feng left the team due to a divergence of opinion; Ai and Zeng kept working on the project and recruited another artist Zhuang Hui [庄辉b.1963] as the new acting editor, then published White Book [《白皮书》] in 1995 as well as Grey Book [《灰皮书》] in 1998.  Three black, white and grey books could be combined called the Red Flag [《红旗》] trilogy." 

Inside pages of the 'Unco-operative Attitude' ctalogue

Inside pages of the 'Unco-operative Attitude' catalogue

"As for the ‘stimulus’ to organise this exhibition Feng Boyi explained: ‘While the Western contemporary art system had already recognised Chinese contemporary art, but the market had not yet taken shape, this situation gave rise to the fact that artists began to cater to the tastes of the Western contemporary art system. A weird phenomenon took place back then: if a curator or museum director paid a visit to China, a lot of the artists would queue outside the room, with a proposal in hand, waiting to be interviewed. It was like waiting to see the doctor.’ [1]"

[1] A dialogue between Feng Boyi and Biljana Ciric [revised by Feng Boyi on August 14, 2014]. Time: 17:00, November 28, 2013, on the way from Rotterdam to Amsterdam. Edited by Wang Xiaoxiao. Courtesy of Feng Boyi

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