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Why There Have Been No Great Chinese Women Artists

Lu Zhang

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Thesis Description


Why There Have Been No Great Chinese Women Artists


Lu Zhang


Agnes Berecz




  • Contemporary Chinese Women Artists


    The concerns represented by contemporary Chinese art that has emerged in the late 1970s are societal issues such as consumerism, cultural identity, and gender. Issues of gender have been increasingly visible in societies where artists also include women. In China, there is a noticeable shortage of women artists and, as many critics suggest, great women artists are underrepresented.
    Contemporary Chinese art is dominantly male despite a history of women’s efforts to make themselves visible in the art world. In a most recent interview about the exhibition curated by Cai Guoqiang, a male Chinese artist, well-known for his innovative use of fireworks, What About the Art? Contemporary Art from China at the Qatar Museums Gallery, he admits that among the 15 artists he only selected two women. As Cai mentioned, “Most women artists may create one work that really stands out, but it is hard to see a methodology behind their works, so that made it difficult for me to select them.” He also mentioned that he “overlooked accomplishments by the 2010 Hugo Boss nominee Cao Fei or the pioneer artist Lin Tianmiao, who had a retrospective at Asia Society in 2012.” Women artists have no important contribution to Chinese contemporary art. Cai’s position, reflected in the exhibition he curated, draws a very significant attention on Chinese women artists raising the following questions: what kind of work do female Chinese artists make? Why are they not well recognized internationally and domestically? How to define the “great” woman artist in China? And why are there no Chinese women artists who are leading models in the field of contemporary Chinese art? Compared to the prominent male practitioners, why are there no great Chinese women artists?
    In the 1970s, art historian Linda Nochlin asked the question, “Why have there been no great women artists?” By asking this question, Nochlin assumed that there are great women artists whose work, due the social marginalization and constraints, often remain unknown to the public. By asking a similar question I will explore the work and critical reception of Chinese female artists, Lin Tianmiao, Xiang Jing, Yin Xiu Zhen and Cai Fei. Prominent female personalities in the contemporary Chinese art scene, the four artists are all recognized both locally and internationally. By addressing their work and attempting to answer these questions, I will discuss the social and cultural conditions of the Chinese art scene during the past two decades as well as the representation and critical reception of Chinese women artists both in China and abroad.




Lu Zhang, “Why There Have Been No Great Chinese Women Artists,” History of Art & Design Theses, accessed September 25, 2018,