2021 Chengdu Biennale: Art Illuminates the City, Chengdu Embraces the World

The 2021 Chengdu Biennale is currently being held in the cultural capital of southwest China, Chengdu. This major event in the artistic calendar will last until April, 2022.

A Biennale is a large-scale art exhibition held every two years in continuity. As one of the most influential international visual art exhibitions, this Biennale does not limit the specific art form of exhibited works, but it conventionally focuses on contemporary art that is highly relevant to the everyday life of human society in the 21st century.

The theme for this year’s Chengdu Biennale is “Super Fusion.” In an interview with Pandaily, Lü Peng, an art historian and the Director of the Academic Committee of the Chengdu Biennale said that “Super Fusion” captures the diversity and complexity of today’s globalized world. “The theme hopes to inform that the logic of a single mindset, of a simple classification of things, of a world understood as a space of day and night, is no longer valid in this day and age.”

For artist Zhang Xiaotao, the theme “Super Fusion” represents “a solution to a post-covid world,” and “a dialogue among multiple worlds.” He brought to the Biennale a digital multi-media work featuring topics related to the pandemic. “It is about the way I as an artist navigate through this time. How do we express ourselves with our bodies in today’s world? How do we respond to this day and age?” explained Zhang, with respect to the origin of his work.

Chengdu Biennale organizers have set up eight themed sections, where more than 500 works from nearly 280 artists, including Song Dong, Cao Fei, Xu Bing, Anish Kapoor, Tony Cragg, Do Ho Suh, Carsten Höller, Katharina Grosse, and many more, will present their unique understandings of a wide range of contemporary issues that human society is faced with – from the perspectives of global and local, ecology and aesthetics, youth and creation, tradition and avant-garde, and so on. “In fact, audiences can expect any possible art form, material, techniques and artistic concepts that one can imagine from the exhibition,” Lü Peng noted.

Also worth noting is the two newly-completed museums that are hosting the Biennale, namely the Chengdu Tianfu Art Museum and Chengdu Museum of Contemporary Art. The design of the former was inspired by the shape of a cotton rose, which calls to mind the nickname of Chengdu, “City of Cotton Roses”(蓉城). With Sichuanese culture as its centerpiece, this museum focuses on the development of art with local, national as well as international classical artworks on display. The architectural design of the Museum of Contemporary Art symbolizes the overlapping mountain peaks that surround the city of Chengdu, and will be focusing on the development of art on the international level, promoting the forward-looking and international development of art in Chengdu.

Located in the Tianfu Art Park, the two museums also constitute an integral part of Chengdu’s plan to become a “Garden City,” a concept first proposed by President Xi Jinping in 2018, calling for a more human-centered, eco-friendly and sustainable form of future cities. Shanghai is another city in China that hosts a Biennale, which has deeply transformed the city’s outlook from a financial center to an important regional hub for contemporary art, attracting a large number of artists, museums, galleries and art research institutions. Chengdu is now walking on the same path to becoming “the third art capital” in China, after Beijing and Shanghai.

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As the largest art exhibition held in the post-pandemic era, the Chengdu Biennale represents the effort of the art communities not just in Chengdu and China, but across the globe, in helping to promote mutual understanding. “It is a test for a nation, a city, an exhibition and ultimately a curator to capture the artistic need on the local, regional, national and ethnic level in the context of globalization, while remaining integral to the world,” the art historian Lü Peng commented, speaking about the challenges of balancing the local and the global when approaching art. “That’s why we have the slogan, ‘Art illuminates the city. Chengdu embraces the world.'”