I didn't want to leave.
That's how I felt this week when I previewed "My Generation: Young Chinese Artists" opening Saturday at the Tampa Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg. That's why I spent six hours looking and looking again at the art. That's why I'm writing this short column now in advance of a complete review coming soon. I just couldn't wait.
The vast range in styles and sensibilities of the 27 artists, all in their 20s and 30s, is held together by themes broader than China's borders: the soul-crushing effects of urbanization and displacement, questions about spirituality, individuality, family ties and other personal relationships.
But if you're not interested in delving deeper, you'll find lots of visual dazzle, the museum equivalent of Chinese fireworks with lots of color and explosive vitality.
Many media are represented among the 100-plus works: painting, drawing, photography, sculpture and installations. I found the eight videos divided between the two museums especially riveting, offering a full emotional menu of humor, angst, anger, poignancy and passion. One is also quite provocative (and funny), but it's given its own separate space with a warning posted before you enter.
The quality and scope of the art are the major factors in making "My Generation" an important show. Its uniqueness derives from the artists themselves, the first generation in many decades to work without the constant fear of censorship, harassment, even incarceration. Nor do they feel a responsibility, as older Chinese artists have felt, to create a form of political manifesto as art. There's still plenty of government control and artists are still censored and harassed, but these younger ones are more interested in exploring social and personal issues and seem to coexist within the political framework rather than protest it.
I plan to return several times. Hope to see you there.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8293.