Oriental Society of Australia Lunchtime Seminar Series | The Aesthetic Needs of the Masses: Artistic Reception in the Aftermath of the Great Leap Forward
The Oriental Society of Australia presents
The OSA Lunchtime Seminar Series
The Aesthetic Needs of the Masses: Artistic Reception in the Aftermath of the Great Leap Forward
Dr Minerva Inwald (Department of History, University of Sydney)
Please join us for the first in the OSA Lunchtime Seminar Series
In May 1962, as the People’s Republic of China was recovering from Mao’s disastrous Great Leap Forward, the newly constructed Museum of Chinese Art in Beijing held its inaugural exhibition: a celebration of the twentieth anniversary of Mao’s treatise on socialist cultural work, “Talks at the Yan’an Forum on Art and Literature”. This paper analyses descriptions of the new Museum and its inaugural exhibition to explore how the party-state mobilised artistic practice to contribute to post-Leap recovery efforts. In contrast to Great Leap Forward cultural policies that demanded art rouse enthusiasm for labour amongst workers, peasants and soldiers, in 1962, cultural bureaucrats argued that art should serve the “aesthetic needs” of the masses. Articles in People’s Daily and professional journals discussing the new Museum presented the institution as a space for aesthetic pleasure, describing, or even imagining, the enjoyment of exhibition visitors as they toured the Museum’s halls and gardens. This paper argues that cultural bureaucrats used ideas about reception both in an effort to win back a disillusioned population with the promise of amusement and pleasure, and to model an idealised relationship between the people and the socialist state; praising exhibition visitors for reporting their opinions and critiques of artworks, cultural bureaucrats suggested that the party-state was concerned with popular opinion and responsive to criticism. Exploring the party-state’s deployment of reception as a political resource, this paper considers the complex ways in which meaning was made in socialist artistic culture.