In A Grand Materialism in the New Art from China, Mary Bittner Wiseman shows that material matters in the work of Chinese artists, where the goal is to call attention to its subjects through the directness and immediacy of its material, like dust from 9/11, 1001 Chinese citizens, paintings made with gunpowder, written words, or the specificity of its sites, like the Three Gorges Dam. Artists are working below the level of language where matter and gesture, texture and touch, instinct and intuition live. Not reduced to the words applied to them, art's subjects appear in their concrete particularity, embedded in the stories of their materials or their sites. Wiseman argues that it is global in being able to be understood by all, as are the materials in the new art and the stories that accompany them: here are items from Song Dong’s mother’s home in the Cultural Revolution, here is dust from 9/11.Finally, it satisfies Arthur Danto’s characterization of art as any representation that shows something new about its subject or puts it in a new light, by way of a rhetorical figure that the viewer interprets. Danto has given criteria for a given work’s making the case for itself that it is art. The material art from China is the paradigm for an art that is global and contemporary.
Mary Bittner Wiseman is a retired professor of philosophy at Brooklyn College and of philosophy and comparative literature at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
Part One – Crisis
Chapter One – Subversive Strategies in Contemporary Chinese Art
Chapter Two – The Role of Expression in Chinese Art
Part Two – Working through Art
Chapter Three – A Grand Materialism
Chapter Four – Gendered Bodies in Contemporary Chinese Art
Part Three – Thinking through Art
Chapter Five – Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World
Chapter Six – According to What? and Bound Unbound
Chapter Seven - Mao’s Legacy and Danto’s Definition
“Before modernism there were important, but limited artistic contacts between China and the West. Now, however, art coming from China very often responds to the highly complex history of that country using visual thinking derived from contemporary Western art. Anyone interested in this new Chinese art will find much of value in Mary Wiseman’s book, a deft synthesis which provides useful information about both Chinese and Western aesthetics, employing many instructive case studies. Relentlessly lucid, her far-reaching ambitious analysis provides an essential starting point for any art historian or philosopher who is interested in learning about contemporary art coming from China.”
"Mary Bittner Wiseman takes a comprehensive a approach to contemporary Chinese art, analyzing it historically, culturally, politically, and philosophically. Her interpretations are fresh and unexpected. A Grand Materialism will ignite discussion and elicit debate about the ongoing globalization and localization of the new art. The book gives us a new way to think about post-pandemic contemporary art around the world."