BOOK: The Chinese Art Book by Colin Mackenzie, Keith Pratt, Jeffrey Moser and Katie Hill

On 09/12/2013 by Site Default

The Phaidon Chinese Art Book, edited by Colin Mackenzie, Keith Pratt, Jeffrey Moser and Katie Hill, is a beautifully-produced pictorial record of Chinese art, covering paintings, calligraphy, pottery, artefacts and performance art, from the Neolithic period up to the present day. It contains over 300 separate works, each with a brief written explanation, and a very brief historical overview in the introduction. But beyond this, it wisely lets the art do the talking.

One of the innovations of this book is that it juxtaposes pieces from different genres and periods rather than following a chronological sequence—though a timeline is added at the back to place the works covered in an historic context. This means that performance art rubs shoulders with the most renowned examples of classic Chinese high art from the Tang, Song and Ming dynasties. Perhaps this over-privileges the contemporary pieces. The captions given some of them seem overly generous, at the same time as accounts of more established works are often surprisingly critical.

The book is also surprising in the ways in which pieces from the period of fierce Maoist artistic control from the 1940s into the 1970s are also given a respectful place. Perhaps this helps us look past the highly politicised context in which much of this recent work was produced, and concentrate more on its artistic qualities…

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