For art and China, 1989 was both an end and a beginning. The June Fourth Tiananmen Square protest is like the end of a decade of relatively open political, intellectual and artistic exploration, at the same time, it also became the starting point of a new era of development, international connection, and individual possibility. Among all branches of contemporary Chinese art, experimental art or conceptual art most sensitively responded to drastic changes in the environment of China, the vanishing of traditional landscapes and lifestyles, the rise of postmodern cities and new urban cultures, as well as the large scale immigration of populations.
With all these changes, contemporary Chinese artists were intensely concerned with their identities, their own images became a constant subject of their work. The result was a large group of self-representations in all forms of visual art, paintings, installations, videos, performances, and socially engaged projects.
In the spring of 1989, the exhibition China/Avant-garde was held at the National Art Gallery in Beijing. It was the first exhibition with independent curators after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. The show could be considered as a retrospective of the new development in contemporary Chinese art during the 1980s.
In my student project made at ArtCenter College of Design, situated in the spring of 2019, SFMOMA is holding the 30-year anniversary of the China/Avant-garde exhibition held in 1989, No U Turn. This exhibition showcases works by eight contemporary Chinese artists, Ai Weiwei, Gu Dexin, Huang Yongping, Qiu Zhijie, Wang Guanyi, Wu Shanzhuan, Zhang Huan, and Zhang Peili. Their works reflect an urgent quest for individuality in this transforming society and continue to inspire and encourage young Chinese artists, who want to advocate social justice in their works, to carve a path in Chinese society nowadays and in the future.
Throughout all the decades since 1989, the Chinese government is trying to restrict those artists. What the artists did is like making changes to society on the cutting edge. Memphis, as a slab serif, like those artists and the year itself, is a transitional typeface between serif and sans serif. Visually, the geometric feeling and the flat serif echo the restriction very well.
When I have such a strong typeface as Memphis for my title, subtitle and poster usage, I really need a typeface that can go with it and at the same time, is easy for the audience to read as my body text. Univers gets along well with Memphis, in terms of the geometric shape. And it’s so clean and clear, which makes it really easy to be read.
The squarish shapes of Li Hei look similar to Memphis. The squarish feeling speaks to the restriction, while the boldness is very expressive, like the artists who are trying to break the rules.