Cover image for Contemporary public art in China : a photographic tour
Contemporary public art in China : a photographic tour
Young, John T.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Seattle : University of Washington Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xvi, 136 pages : illustrations (chiefly color) ; 23 cm
General Note:
"A Samuel and Althea Stroum book."

Includes index.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
N8846.C6 Y68 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



More than ten thousand public artworks have been created in the People's Republic of China since its establishment in 1949. They range from the ubiquitous Chairman Mao statues, to immense monuments and murals commemorating revolutionary uprisings, to abstract pieces inspired by international artistic trends. Eighty-three of the most intriguing of these works are featured here by American sculptor John Young, who traveled to dozens of Chinese cities, photographing public artworks and interviewing artists and arts administrators.

Comments gleaned from these interviews, along with information about subjects and settings, are woven into the text accompanying the color photographs. The artists, ranging in age from twenty to over seventy, discuss how they view their art, how it is commissioned, the conditions under which they work, and especially the collaborative efforts through which much of it has been created. Such sujects as art education, the influence of Western art, and the position of women artists in China are also touched on.

Young introduces us to examples of portrait art featuring political figures, such as the famous collaborative marble carving of Mao Zedong in the Memorial Hall at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, and others that depict anonymous subjects, such as Situ Zhaoguang's playful sculpture--located on a Beijing traffic island amid busy streets--of a girl engrossed in reading a book, plugging her ears to the noise. China's rich ethnic culture is eviden in works such as Yuan Yungsheng's mural at the Beijing airport, portraynig the Dai people's Water Splashing Festival (whose nude bather was censored until recently and covered over by plywood). Folklore serves as the inspiration for works such as the collaborative granite sculpture Five Rams in Guangzhou, while historical figures and events from imperial China are the subjects of many works, such as Silk Road, a massive sculpture by Ma Gaihu and others marking the Chinese end of the ancient trade route. Many public artworks illustrate China's twentieth-century military struggles, including resistance to the Japanese invasion during World War II and the civil war betwen the Nationalists and Communists.

Most of the artworks portrayed in John Young's superb photographs have never before appeared in a Western publication. Contemporary Public Art in China will be a valuable resource for anyone interested in recent Chinese art or public art, as well as a fascinating guide for visitors to China.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Part personal travelogue, part anecdotal history, this small volume was written by sculptor Young after a 1995 trip to China. Visiting a few provinces, he compiled a portfolio of photographs, which is the main content of the survey. Most of the works are urban, with almost one-quarter of the works in Beijing. With the exception of one traditional example from the first century BCE and a few others dated around 1960, the other works (almost 125) are from the last 25 years. A few nonsculptural works, like the ceramic subway mural The History of Chinese Astronomy (1986), are discussed, but most of these pieces are three-dimensional, ranging from a classically inspired plinth (1959) to a cubistic bull fight (1990) and a stainless steel and bronze abstraction (1993). Little known in the West, there is considerable range in these works, from the predictable political portraiture of Mao to more narrative ensembles recounting traditional folk tales. Perhaps the book's best feature is the informality of its text and the clear color photographs, making it accessible to a broad audience. General readers; lower-division undergraduates; professionals. R. J. Onorato University of Rhode Island