In her 2010 book The Wild, Wild East: An American Art Critic’s Adventures in China
, Barbara Pollack describes a moment after a friendly argument with artist Ai Weiwei. The two are squabbling over the differences between American and Chinese cigarettes, and when Pollack later turns to the Internet to gather evidence for their next bout, she’s struck by the absurdity of her own cigarette nationalism. If a billion people are puffing on Chinese smokes, she reasons, who’s to say Marlboros are really better?
In her book, Pollack offers the story semi-jokingly as an analogy for coming to grips with contemporary art in China, where she began traveling and reporting in 2004. At home in New York, her work as an art critic had put her in contact with Chinese artists who lived in the city during the 1990s. When she arrived in Shanghai and Beijing, she realized those cites were on their way to growing communities of artists, galleries and museums that could rival art capitals like New York — and soon.
“It was really clear to me that there was going to be a major art scene erupting there, which is what happened by 2006,” Pollack says.
On Saturday, the Tampa Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, debut My Generation: Young Chinese Artists
. The exhibition is curated by Pollack and showcases the fruits of her decade-long arts reporting in China, focusing on 27 artists born in the country since 1976, the year of Mao Zedong’s death. The idea for the show originated over a dinner party during video artist Janet Biggs’s 2011 solo exhibition at TMA. At the dinner, which followed a public conversation between Biggs and Pollack, museum trustee Sara Richter, upon learning about Pollack’s China research, suggested that her next project take the form of an exhibition for Tampa. After a 2013 trip to China with Pollack for studio visits with many of the artists who would end up being featured in My Generation, TMA director Todd Smith was convinced: the country’s burgeoning scene deserved a closer look in the U.S., outside of New York and L.A.