Cultural Renaissance: Interview with CCAA Director Anna Liu

by Chris Moore 墨虎恺
translated by Daniel Szehin Ho 何思衍

In 2012, Anna Liu became the Director of the Chinese Contemporary Art Award (CCAA). Founded in 1997 by the influential Swiss collector Uli Sigg, CCAA is a bi-annual award dedicated to promoting, developing and cementing the importance of contemporary Chinese art as it unfolds. Here, Anna Liu gives Randian her perspective on the nature of CCAA, its challenges and aims. 

[image] Anna Liu 刘栗溧

Chris Moore: What is CCAA’s role now—as a prize, but also as an institution?

Anna Liu: I believe that as China’s first international award for contemporary art, CCAA encourages independent creation and innovation by contemporary Chinese artists; at the same time, it provides a platform for international and domestic audiences to discuss the current state of contemporary Chinese art, as well as the direction in which it is heading. Due to these functions that we serve, we cannot help but become an important bridge to the rest of the world in terms of introducing top-quality contemporary art works.

As an academic institution, CCAA focuses more on sharing the results of our research with the public and artists through various means. From 2013 onwards, we began sorting through 15 years’ worth of archives at CCAA, and gradually opened them up as a public resource. We are ready to be connected to the public; we will also organize academic exchanges related to art at our new offices.

CM: CCAA speaks to multiple audiences, both local and international. How does it address their respective and even competing needs? What do you see as being the particular challenges of communication—international and local—facing both CCAA and contemporary art in China generally?

AL: I think CCAA cannot satisfy everyone’s expectations. Our jury members hail from different countries, but one thing is very clear: there is one discussion happening at CCAA, not two. CCAA’s task is not to satisfy everyone’s expectations, but rather to lead and create an influence through its longstanding academic standards of selection. The main goal is to attract even broader attention through this award and our discussions.

CM: Besides celebrating 15 years of CCAA, what are the aims of holding this exhibition?

AL: Another reason is that the fifteen years of CCAA from 1998 to 2013 happen to be the period when Chinese contemporary art emerged from almost nothing—thus, a crucial period of development. As the first award in China with the participation of international jury members, the award has quietly influenced how this historic period will be written about—in terms of Chinese contemporary art, including the award winners and nominees.

The other point is that in 2013, CCAA established its foothold (offices) in Beijing in the hope of building greater links between this award and the Chinese public—making the award, as well as the information we have amassed, more open. This exhibition is a start; rather comprehensively, it presents the research results of CCAA to the public—including the internal operative mechanisms and international structural operations methods, concept and standards—allowing the audience to understand CCAA better.

CM: What are the principal difficulties of running an institution like CCAA in China?

AL: Running a private, non-profit organization in China involves many difficulties. Other fields also face this. First of all, most people in China do not particularly understand the difference between a market-based organization and a non-profit organization. Another thing is that the system governing charitable organizations is not very adequate. So, whether in terms of the government or the general public, there isn’t a great degree of concern or understanding for charitable non-profit organizations—in terms of their origins, aims or mode of operation. The support from the whole society as well as from specific organizations is therefore very weak; the government’s stance is also relatively weak.

Of course, our current funds come from the founder. I feel that, along with so many years of heady growth in Chinese culture, there also needs to be interest from society at large in a cultural renaissance, and more interest in non-profit, academic organizations.

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