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After drawing both plaudits and controversy over its run at the Guggenheim in 2017, the exhibition Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World has come to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where it will be on view until February 24. Collecting works made in China between the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 and the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the exhibition surveys the massive scope of changes in the country with the onset of the globalized age and its economic ascendance. The museum will also host selections from the film series which accompanied its run at the Guggenheim, Turn It On: China on Film, 2000–2017.
Curated by celebrity multidisciplinary artist Ai Weiwei and filmmaker Wang Fen, Turn It On will screen 13 different independent Chinese documentaries between January 10 and 24. Ai and Wang’s statement on the series explains:
Chinese independent filmmakers began making documentaries in the early 1990s, coinciding with the wider availability of film equipment emerging in commercial markets at that time. Many of the filmmakers represented in this series are writers or artists with very little or no cinematography training who learned by doing. Although many of these documentaries were produced with modest budgets and are technically amateur, they all tell important stories, many relating to issues of personal struggle or social justice.
The films in the program address diverse subjects. Plastic China (2016) looks at the environmental and social impact of mass production via a plastic waste facility in a small town. Readymade (2009) follows two professional Mao Zedong impersonators as they ply their trade. The three-hour We the Workers (2017) captures the multi-generational struggle of labor rights activists. Ai Weiwei’s own Disturbing the Peace (2009) is his personal document of his attempts to get answers from the state over his own beating by authorities.
In addition to the screening series, SFMOMA has partnered with the library-based streaming service Kanopy to host the films for online viewing. Anyone can watch movies on the site for free with a membership to one of thousands of partner libraries. In addition to eight of the movies being screened, seven other selections from the series will be exclusively available on Kanopy. All the films will be available to watch starting January 10. This is a novel initiative from SFMOMA, and it would be wonderful to see future institutions adopt a similar strategy so that more people can access the film programs they curate. Cinema gains its power from dissemination, and that’s particularly important to the topics covered in this series.
Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World continues at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (151 3rd St, San Francisco) through February 24. Turn It On: China on Film, 2000–2017 will be playing at the museum January 10-27 and will stream on Kanopy beginning January 10.
Correction: A previous version of the headline stated there were 20 films available to stream. There are 15. This has been fixed.