Yierdai: In the footsteps of giants

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Frank Lin and his father Lin Ming-che [China Daily] 

Being a young artist with famous parents in the same business appears to be a two-edged sword when it comes to successfully moving out of their shadows.

Post-80s artist Luo Dan is following in his famous father's footsteps. The young teacher at Sichuan Fine Arts Institute held his first solo exhibition Free Like the Wind in Shanghai and Taipei, in 2011, while a second solo exhibition is scheduled in Beijing for the end of 2012. However, he is still best known as the son of Luo Zhongli, whose Super Realistic oil painting, Father, set a milestone in contemporary Chinese art. Luo Dan admits to being one of the so-called "yierdai", second-generation individuals who follow in their parents' artistic footsteps as artists, gallery managers or collectors.

The yierdai group has grown in recent years as leading contemporary art figures enter their 50s or 60s. Like Luo, the yierdai are thought to benefit from their parents' positions.

"The advantage is quite obvious," says 78-year-old art critic Shao Dazhen. "They are more likely to have better genes and a talent for art. And they have been nurtured consciously or unconsciously in an artistic environment since they were born."

"Having been surrounded by all kinds of art and artists, art seems to be the most natural thing to pursue," Luo Dan agrees.

Frank Lin is a second-generation collector and gallery manager from Taiwan. His father, Lin Ming-che, is one of the earliest Chinese contemporary artwork collectors, as well as president of the Mountain Art Foundation, an NGO that has promoted art and culture since 1992.

The younger Lin has been in charge of his namesake gallery - Beijing Frank Lin Art Space - since it opened in late 2004 as the Beijing branch of Mountain Art Foundation.

As the future inheritor of more than 10,000 artworks, the 36-year-old was asked by his father to help sort huge storage rooms crammed with artworks during his high school years. Lin admits he was not happy doing this to begin with but gradually became familiar with the artists' works and lives and says this gave him a head start in his career.


Luo Zhongli and Luo Dan [China Daily]

The art critic Shao, however, stresses that being the child of a successful art professional can cause problems.

"Parental fame and wealth may make them less likely to make an effort," Shao says of yierdai.

Painter and president of China Central Academy of Fine Arts Pan Gongkai - whose father is ink painter Pan Tianshou (1898-1971) - believes having famous parents is an added pressure.

"The public's interest in yierdai often comes from their attention to the first generation artist. Therefore, yierdai are often compared with their famed parents," and find it difficult to shake off their artistic influence, Pan says.

"My painting style used to be exactly the same as my father's," Luo Dan admits.

The 31-year-old says he did not find his own artistic language until the end of his undergraduate years. "I looked through art museums in Europe and decided to abandon all the familiar techniques to find out what my heart really wanted to tell," he recalls.

He chose rock 'n' roll as the subject matter of his graduate creations, using flat strokes and bright colors to express the rhythm of music and emotional catharsis. As a postgraduate, Luo focused on rethinking traditional culture from a young man's perspective.

"But it'll still take a while to find my real style," he predicts.

"Luo Dan was influenced by me at the early stage," says father Luo Zhongli. "I'm glad he's shifted attention to subjects closer to his age and is seeking his own painting language."

Zhou Hehe, on the other hand, denies any artistic influence from her oil painter father Zhou Chunya, as she chose to focus on fashion design and sculpture.

At her first solo exhibition in Beijing in 2011, she posed "alien skeletons" in front of withered vines, wearing dark and Gothic finery sewed by herself. "A new time requires new sensations. There is not only traditional beauty, but the beauty of ugliness, darkness and abnormality," Zhou Hehe says.

"My works are emotional, exciting and sunny, while my daughter's works are rational, heavy and even a little ghostlike," says Zhou Chunya, whose paintings are some of the most expensive in the contemporary Chinese art scene. "It's pointless for yierdai to copy what their fathers have done."

Zhou Hehe and Zhou Chunya [China Daily]

As a new-generation gallery manager and collector, Frank Lin is expanding his collection to younger artists, and artists from other Asian countries such as Japan's Nara Yoshitomo, rather than just leading Chinese figures.

"Such an approach helps update me on the frontiers of knowledge," says Frank Lin's father, Lin Ming-che.

Art critic Zhao Li believes yierdai have more comprehensive overseas experience compared with their parents and this gives them a different outlook.

Zhou Hehe, for example, studied fashion design at Japan's Bunka Fashion College. Frank Lin got his art history degree from Canada's University of Toronto and his master's degree in multimedia art from Australia's University of Sydney. Luo Dan went to Germany and UK as exchange student from Sichuan Fine Arts Institute.

"It helps enhance their independent thinking and international vision," Zhao says.

When it comes to the future development of yierdai, Zhou Chunya believes the improved social environment is a double-edged sword.

"Yierdai lack the baptism of poverty and hardship, which is essential to creating a great artist. Even so, they have better shots at being successful in today's diverse and free environment," Zhou says.

He also points out yierdai are more confident and the overall quality of their works is better than the older generation.

"Stick to individual character and work harder," Zhou advises the younger generation.

"They need to be cautious as material wealth and spiritual richness are completely two different matters," stresses art critic Shao Dazhen, warning that having an artistic background has led to many mediocre yierdai artists.

Lin Ming-che, on the other hand, sees hope for the future, citing the case of Pablo Picasso, whose achievements easily surpassed those of his art-teacher father.

"We have provided the best resources and a platform," says the 63-year-old. "Now it's our children's turn to show what they've got."

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