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From November 7, 2003 until March 19, 2004 an exhibition of Chinese woodblock prints of the twentieth century took place at the British Library in London in cooperation with the Muban Foundation. The Muban Foundation, the exhibition at the British Library and two subsequent book publication have played a pivotal role in making modern Chinese printmaking more aware outside of China.
This article was written as a background information at the occasion of artelino's auction no. 190, featuring some 9 artists that had been represented in this exhibition and/or are among the 60 selected artists for the so-called Muban portfolio (see below).
The Muban Foundation was established in 1997 by Christer von der Burg and the late Verena Bolinder-M�ller. Muban is the Chinese word for woodblocks. Christer van der Burg had run a bookshop, Hanshan in London, specialized in Asian arts books. The goal of the Foundation is to encourage contemporary Chinese woodblock printmaking and to make this art form aware to a wider audience outside of China.
In 1997 Christer van der Burg and Verena Bolinder-M�ller undertook the first print purchasing trip to China. They visited the Chinese art academies and thus got contact with the printmakers. During several visits a portfolio of hundreds of prints was purchased.
The purchasing activities culminated in a project of a commission to 60 contemporary Chinese woodblock printmakers to produce one print representative for their work in an edition of 155 copies. Other than the total edition size, the only restrictions were minimum and maximum print sizes. The project ran over several years, from late 1997 until 2003. These 60 prints were published in 2003 in the book The Art of Contemporary Chinese Woodcuts.
Next to the book publication, another major event gave a considerable exposure to the collection of the Muban Foundation. The British Library had set up an exhibition "Chinese Printmaking Today" in collaboration with the Muban Foundation. It was held from November 7, 2003 until March 19, 2004. The show displayed works by some 90 artists and included most of the sixty woodblock printmakers of the Muban portfolio as described above. The exhibition was accompanied by a catalog that has the quality of a book publication on modern Chinese printmaking with articles and references. The book is titled Chinese Printmaking Today.
The exhibition represented a core group of leading Chinese printmakers, but also earlier examples and a few folk art prints by little known peasant artists. Overall there were some 90 artists represented.
The activities of Christer von der Burg and the late Verena Bolinder-M�ller have started at a time (1997) when hardly anyone outside China knew anything about modern Chinese printmaking. The other notable aspect is the absence of a commercial market in China still in the late 1990s. Since then things have slowly begun to change. The Muban Foundation has played a considerable part in opening the path. As it is often the case, those who show up early, do set certain standards. With the book publications and the exhibition at the British Library, the core artists of the Muban collection do enjoy the aura of leading Chinese printmakers.
When Christer von der Burg and the late Verena Bolinder-M�ller made the decision about the selection of the 60 artists (50 had been planned originally), they did it in close cooperation with the Chinese art academies. Therefore the selection of the 'circle of 60' does represent what the 'official' art scene in China at the time considered to be the best woodblock printmakers. The selection comprises however only artists who work in woodblock printmaking technique. It is the major technique chosen by Chinese printmakers. But it is not the only one. There are many, especially the younger artists, who use other techniques like silkscreen, etching, mezzotint or some mixed media hybrids.
After the experience of selling with artelino modern Chinese prints in direct cooperation with Chinese partners since ca. May 2003, we think that the selection of the 60 Muban portfolio artists was pretty representative for printmakers working with the medium of woodblocks. But of course, it is by no means exhaustive. There are many more excellent Chinese printmakers out there, both from the elder and of course the younger generation, who earn more public attention. And it is good as it is! Let's be glad that this art section has not yet been settled in rigid structures and with high prices. There is still so much to discover. And we are glad that we have been able to contribute to the development of Chinese printmaking by presenting and selling so many wonderful works to a worldwide audience outside of China.
Dieter and Yorie in June 2005
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Works by emerging Chinese artists in BUYDIRECT.