Materials of the Future: Documenting Contemporary Chinese Art from 1980-1990

Project Overview

Thirty years ago, China embarked on a reform program that transformed not only the economy but also the arts. Since then the growth and production of contemporary art have been dramatic, as has the production of documentary materials bearing evidence to the critical debates that surrounded its development. However to this day many of the most important art publications and critical writing, especially from the late 1970s and 1980s, have been difficult to locate, due primarily to the lack of a systematic collecting and archiving infrastructure.

In 2006, Asia Art Archive began a focused archiving project called 'Materials of the Future: Documenting Contemporary Chinese Art from 1980-1990'. This project aimed at developing a comprehensive collection of primary research materials including books, periodicals, newspapers, exhibition brochures, invitations, video recordings, correspondence, and other relevant documents. 

As part of this project, over 75 in-depth interviews with key artists, curators, and critics were conducted. From a portion of these interviews, AAA created a documentary film about experimental art in South China (Guangzhou) in the 1980s entitled From Jean-Paul Sartre to Teresa Teng: Contemporary Cantonese Art in the 1980s. AAA has also digitised a selection of materials related to Cantonese art in the 1980s.

AAA’s 1980s archiving project culminated with the launch of a comprehensive website portal called in September 2010. The website includes introductory texts to the project by Jane DeBevoise and Zheng Shengtian; and seventy-eight interviews clips

To celebrate this launch, AAA collaborated with the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York in organising a series of events in Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, and New York. These events included panel discussions with key artists and critics, as well as a presentation of MoMA’s publication titled Contemporary Chinese Art: Primary Documents, edited by Professor Wu Hung.

Material from the project will continually be uploaded and made accessible on Collection Online.

Related Programmes

Talk Series| Co-launch of Two Documentary Projects
Sep - Oct 2010| Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, New York
Screenings | From Jean-Paul Sartre to Teresa Teng: Contemporary Cantonese Art in the 1980s
14 - 17 May 2009 | Hong Kong
07 – 22 Jan 2010 | Guangzhou and New Delhi
24 Jul 2010 | Manchester
18 Sep 2010 | Shenzhen
05 – 09 Dec 2010 | Beijing and New Jersey
31 Mar - 01 Apr 2011 | New York and Hawaii
15 Oct 2011 | Shanghai


'Materials of the Future: Documenting Contemporary Chinese Art from 1980-1990' is made possible by the generous support of The Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation, The W.L.S. Spencer Foundation, Ilyas and Mara Khan, and The Foundation of the Arts Initiatives.