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The China Man

Philip Dodd is nothing if not futuristic. Ten years ago,as director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts,London,he hosted an experimental exhibition...

Written by RICHA BHATIA |
March 18, 2009 11:14:47 pm

Philip Dodd,who foresaw the rise of Chinese art,talks about the phenomenon

Philip Dodd is nothing if not futuristic. Ten years ago,as director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts,London,he hosted an experimental exhibition “Beijing-London: Revolutionary Capitals” with Chinese artists,who,he wagered,would become famous. “Nobody came,not even Charles Saatchi,” Dodd shook his head and smiled. He has his reasons,one being that Chinese artists are storming the art world now,“dear old Tate” is collecting Chinese works and New York’s MOMA is already integrating contemporary Chinese works in its collections. Another reason could just be that Saatchi has had an exhibition of Chinese art,“The Revolution Continues: New Art from China”,with 24 artists at his London gallery,attracting over 5,000 visitors every day.

Dodd was at Delhi’s NGMA to talk about “Going Global: Chinese Art,Artists and the Art Market” and no one was surprised to see a Brit waxing on Chinese art. After all,the 59-year-old spends 10 days a month in Beijing. He also has a consultancy Made in China,which he opened in 2004 after his stint at the Institute of Contemporary Arts,to forge cultural projects between China and the UK.

“Most people might think the most influential show of the ‘80s was Damien Hirst’s “Freeze” or the 1989 Pompidou exhibition ‘Magiciens de la Terre’. But it was the ‘China/Avant Garde’ show which marked a watershed moment,” said Dodd.

But the rise of Chinese art wasn’t without its share of “sea turtles”,the Chinese term for those who left the country to study and work overseas but are now swimming home. In 2000,Zhang Huan,now the country’s most respected artist,dressed himself in meat for his New York show. “The presence of sea turtles like Huan explained the Chinese to the world and the world to the Chinese. They are the people who returned to China,understood the global art language and helped strengthen its presence. And now the country wants to move from Made in China to Create in China,” said Dodd.

Dodd is not worried about the economic downturn affecting China art. “It is forcing artists to think about their 5,000 years of history. They are also turning back to 1989 and the iconic exhibition to see why art mattered then. There were five recent exhibitions on 1989,” he said. “The best Chinese art has already left China,ending up in European and American museums,” he added,“I know a Chinese friend who would love to buy art but doesn’t know where to get it. Without local collectors,the Chinese art market is subject to the vagaries of the world. India has great collectors,” said Dodd. Up next,he is building an international festival of arts in China for 2010. Now,would he be ready to wager on some Indians?

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