5 Contemporary Chinese Artists To Watch

Who are not named Ai Weiwei.


China’s contemporary art scene is booming. Recent economic growth (not withstanding this week’s stock plunge) has led to greater investment in the arts–China’s now the world’s second largest art market. That, in turn, has given younger and emerging artists previously overshadowed by the country’s big art stars a formidable platform with gallerists and museums.


This month Foundation Louis Vuitton is showcasing some of the leading Chinese mainland artists with a blockbuster show: Bentu, Chinese artists in a time of turbulence and transformation.

The stars of the Chinese contemporary art scene defy easy categorization; featuring a mix of styles, genres, and ages, the foundation’s selection is as diverse as the country’s billion-strong population. Though many of their works are still political, these artists are tackling different themes than the artists before them, who were profoundly influenced by social unrest like the events of Tiananmen Square. Many of the artists in the show explore tensions that reflect the transition from that period of their history to today–between Eastern and Western values, tradition and technology, and communism and capitalism.

Here, we’ve compiled the five contemporary Chinese artist we’re most excited to watch in 2016.

The Coloured Sky : New Women II, 2014©Yang Fudong, 2015. Photo: Aurélien Mole

Yang Fudong
Considered one of the brightest young stars in cinematography and photography, Yang is known for his poetic, dreamlike films and surrealistic photographs. He’s best known for his “Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest,” a series of silent, black-and-white films that follow a group of young people through fantastical scenes.

Physique of consciousness, 2011Xu Zhen/MadeIn Company

Xu Zhen
Installation, video, and performance artist Xu is notorious for his critique of both politics and the art world. He works individually and through his collective practice MadeIn Company and is best known for The Starving of Sudan, a live installation featuring an African toddler and a mechanized vulture.

Jincheng Airport, 2010Courtesy of the artist

Liu Xiaodong
Known for his strong brushwork and bold colors, Liu paints intimate portraits from snapshots of friends, family, and everyday life. He’s strongly influenced by the paintings of Lucien Freud.

Purple Air, 2014Courtesy Liu Wei Studio

Liu Wei
Working in a variety of mediums–from painting to video–Liu emphasizes outlandish, visceral, and satirical elements. He’s best known for Indigestion II, a monumental, person-sized sculpture of a pile of poop.

Live in RMB City, 2009© Cao Fei, 2015/Courtesy of the artist and Vitamin Creative Space, Guangzhou

Cao Fei
Tackling subjects as diverse as a Chinese factory and the virtual world of “Second Life,” Cao’s short poetic films explore the space between reality and the dream world, and the discontent and disillusionment of China’s younger generation.

About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.