Modernity through syncretism and eclecticism: Wu Guanzhong's artistic practice in the cultural and political environment of the PRC (1949-1989)
This thesis examines Wu Guanzhong’s 吴冠中 (1919-2010) art and art theory in the context of socialist and post-socialist China. Wu’s art came to maturation through a sophisticated syncretism of Chinese and Western painting styles and techniques. Aesthetic considerations notwithstanding, each of Wu’s artistic breakthroughs was also a direct response to the cultural policies of the Chinese Communist Party or to the larger cultural and political currents at important junctures of twentieth-century China. Mirroring the syncretistic style and political nature of his artwork, Wu’s art theory is characterised by an eclecticism that mediates between Chinese and Western artistic concepts and walks a thin line between creative agency and political correctness. By identifying the particular qualities of Wu’s art practice that captured the spirit of the 1980s and contributed to his phenomenal success during the ‘Culture Fever’ at the time, this thesis seeks to demonstrate how Wu’s unique blend of syncretism may exemplify an alternative path of Chinese artistic modernity, one that is forged by ‘official artists’ working within the system and shaped by the artists’ strategies of cultural politics as much as their aesthetic choices.