都市一景（堆雪） / 1956 / 布面油画 / 109.5厘米×145.5厘米
Landscape of City(snow) / 1956 / oil on canvas / 109.5 cm×145.5 cm
Works of 5th Beijing Biennale, 2012
Since the debut of the Venice Biennale in 1895, many countries, especially in the second half of the 20th century, have held art biennales. It has become a trend particularly in developing countries that wish to gain their own independent position in the world of art. In January 2002, Mr. Wang Yong, former Director of Institute of Fine Arts, Chinese National Academy of Arts, and Mr. Jin Shangyi, Honorary Chairman of China Artists Association, went to Bangladesh together to attend the 10th Dhaka Biennale. On that occasion, they were deeply impressed because Bangladesh, a developing country, was able to hold ten biennales in a row (that would be 20 years) in its capital Dhaka, and for our capital, Beijing, such a biennale didn’t exist at all. Back then, artists from many countries, especially Asian countries, were asking when Beijing would start a biennale so they could come and participate in it. Later on the Spring Festival forum jointly held by the Institute of Fine Arts of Chinese National Academy of Arts and China Artists Association, Mr. Wang Yong proposed that China should expand the cultural exchanges by holding art events such as the Beijing Biennale, which I immediately endorsed because my colleague Tao Qin, in charge of foreign affairs, also had this idea for a long time and suggested starting it a year ago. I requested Mr. Wang Yong to write a feasible report about the organization of the Beijing International Art Biennale and the report was presented to the State Council leaders at that time. After a very complex and difficult reporting process, during which I spared no effort, it finally got approved.
This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Beijing Biennale. As its witness, I have always paid close attention to the growth and development of the exhibition: after getting the approval from the State Council in 2002, the 1st Biennale with the theme on “Originality: Contemporaneity and Locality”, attracted 45 participating countries in 2003. According to the CCTV News report: during the exhibition, the daily audience at the two main venues, National Art Museum of China and China Millennium Monument, exceeded 20 thousand people, making it so far the largest and most-visited international art exhibition of highest-standards in China. The 1st Beijing Biennale was also one of the most important cultural activities to commemorate Beijing’s 850th anniversary of capital founding and was acclaimed by the media the “best view of the autumn” and the “highlight of the highlights” during the Golden Week of the National Day.
Behind the glory and praise, there were the unknown difficulties during the organizing process of the exhibition. The preparation stage of the 1st Beijing Biennale was hit by SARS, but we were fortunate enough to receive support from artists and curators all over the world at that critical moment, especially from the Italian international curator Mr. Sanfo. When SARS was at its worst, Mr. and Mrs. Sanfo flew to China, being the only two passengers on that plane from Italy to China. When we entertained him at the Beijing Hotel, there was not a single customer except us. The boilers were no longer in use, and a waiter took a thermos from his dormitory in order to make us coffee. At that time, the foreign delegates of the1st Beijing Biennale stayed at the Beijing Hotel as scheduled, and the Beijing Hotel was touched and gave us a very low price, only 200 yuans per room. This was a privilege that had never been given before as special thanks to the first international activity that settled in the hotel after SARS.
After the successful opening of the 1st Beijing Biennale, a Finland female reporter interviewed me and asked, “Most of the biennales in the world have been displaying new media art and conceptual art while the Beijing Biennale still emphasizes on paintings and sculptures. Aren’t you afraid of being called outdated?” I answered, “We all say that artistic works need to pursue individuality. Don’t art exhibitions need individuality, too?” Indeed, contemporariness of paintings and sculptures has always been the main content of the exhibition from the beginning to the present for more than ten years, and it has become a unique and fixed feature of the Beijing Biennale.
It can be said that the Beijing Biennale came a long way from all kinds of tough situation to the present, thanks to the persistent support from the community. When we first came up with idea, we worried that no foreign countries would come to this international art biennale because at that time, it was hard for Chinese art to enter the world stage and many international exhibitions would only invite some Chinese artists from abroad. We thought that it would be nice if we could have ten or twenty foreign artists to come. We were very concerned that if the pursued concept didn’t make it as an influential international exhibition. It took a lot of courage at that time. But with determination and continuous efforts, we visited nearly all the embassies in China and contacted the ambassadors and cultural counselors of the Ministry of Culture and wrote to them to get local publicities and contacts with the local artists associations, and the procedure was very taxing. We got more than 40 countries after all the efforts paid. It was a challenging and accumulating process for the Beijing Biennale to develop to this day.
Support from all parties have strengthened our determination to establish an independent exhibition system that suits the conditions in China. In the 2nd Beijing Biennale, with the theme on “Humanistic Concern of Contemporary Art” in 2005, the scope of the exhibition expanded to 69 countries and it became the largest biennale of paintings and sculptures in the world. At the same time, taking the occasion of the 2nd Beijing Biennale as an opportunity, China Artists Association, as the official organization of China’s membership in International Association of Art, successfully held the 16th IAA conference within the framework of UNESCO. China was elected the new presiding country with majority votes, which effectively promoted the voice and reputation of the Chinese art community in the world. According to China’s “Outline of Cultural Development During the Eleventh Five-Year Plan” published in September 2006, the Beijing Biennale has been included in the “Famous Cultural Brands with Key Support” project; the 3rd Beijing Biennale, with the theme on “Colors and the Olympics” in coordination with the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, increased the number of participating countries to 81; in 2010 and 2012, the 4th and 5th Beijing Biennales, with the theme on “Environment Concern and Human Existence” and “Future and Reality” respectively, were successfully held and the number of participating countries expanded to 85; the 6th Beijing Biennale, with the theme on “Memory and Dream”, further increased this number to 96 and was listed as the approved national exhibition by the National Leading Group for Cleanup and Standardization of Celebrations, Seminars and Forum Activities, which is the only international art exhibition reserved in the system of China Federation of Literary and Art Circles. The 7th Biennale of Beijing, with the theme on “The Silk Road and World Civilizations”, made a new record in the number of participating countries, reaching over 100. This is not only the milepost of growth in number but shows the world’s further recognition of and response to the Beijing Biennale exhibition framework. The Beijing Biennale is not only a response to and the practice of the Belt and Road Initiative as well as the Silk Road spirit of “peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefit”, but also the international platform for artists of the world to show their talent and skills. Those excellent contemporary painting and sculpture works in accordance to the exhibition theme will gather in Beijing, exploring the context of cultural integration from the perspective of visual art, showing the outcome of the intersection of human development, and writing a new chapter of the integration and development of world civilizations.
In the recent years’ NPC and CPPCC, I have always been advocating that Chinese art should “go out” and “bring in”, because it would enhance China’s self-confidence in her own culture, which has an irreplaceable significance. Art is the most direct communication between China and the rest of the world, and also performs as a bridge for the world to understand China. The artists use rich and colorful narratives to reproduce the history and national spirits in an artistic way. Art is the most direct way to convey aesthetic ideas, thoughts and spirits in order to enhance communication and nurture people’s spiritual world. As China and the world’s largest international art exhibition platform, the Beijing Biennale, after 15 years of development, has become an important cornerstone to bridge the cultural exchanges between China and foreign countries.
Fifteen-year means nearly 5,500 days of continuous growth in the biennial mechanism of the Beijing Biennale, but in terms of the long history, it’s just a short moment. Nevertheless, the Beijing Biennale has always been a witness and participant in the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation in the new millennium. The rapid development of the exhibition has proved and demonstrated the charm and glory of China by art and it is destined to have a brighter future with the rise of the nation.
Chairman of China Artists Association
Honorary Chairman of International Association of Art
Chief Curator of the Beijing Biennale