The art of modern China has once again entered the London galleries in force. The Hayward Gallery, which has a long and successful record of exhibiting work by the world’s most adventurous and innovative artists, has now devoted its entire main space to contemporary work from China—pictures, sculptures, photography, videos, human statues, and performance art. Across town in the Barbican Art Gallery, hidden away upstairs in a couple of side rooms in a large photography exhibition, is the utterly contrasting work of the Chinese photojournalist Li Zhenshang. Li has given the world its most extensive visual record of the horrors of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution of 1966–76. It provides a grimly realistic prelude to the world of high contemporary fantasy at the Hayward, an exhibition which has so many new Chinese directions that it almost ceases to have direction at all.

Perhaps the most...


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