Painting China Now – Museum of Modern Art, Rio de Janeiro (2013-2014)

Curator and text: Luiz Camillo Osorio


Painting China Now at Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro [MAM Rio] (December 7, 2013 – February 10, 2014). By Ondrej Brody and Kristofer Paetau: a collection of thirty oil paintings produced in China, depicting violence by the Chinese government upon their citizens.


In this presentation of the work Painting China Now, the artists used the text of the curator Luiz Camillo Osorio to create a ‘layout’ composed by the text of the curator and the 30 paintings commissioned in China. We wish to thank our friend, the artist Rubens Pileggi for the photographic documentation of our exhibition at the MAM Rio.

See also the “artists eBook” made in parallel to the exhibition at the MAM Rio:

Another presentation of the same work:

Other works commissioned in China by the artists:




The work Painting China Now, by the pair of Czech-Finnish artists Brody and Paetau deals with an uncomfortable, albeit necessary, theme: political persecution and torture. The difficulty is in how to make these images more than just a mere accusation. Not that it is unnecessary, but the addition of critical layers gives the artistic strategy an important complexity and intensity.  The creative process of these images transports to the political document a new layer of politics, which dislocates and reveals forms of production, circulation and visibility of the images, in a China that is capitalist and closed to dissension.




In 1989, the world was divided between commemorating the fall of the Berlin wall and mourning the massacre of Tiananmen Square, in Beijing. Two different paths were there defined for the old communist world: one focused on democratic liberalism (Eastern Europe), and the other on capitalistic power (China).  Unfortunately, attention seems to have been given to the latter, “the successful”. China is a frightening giant – with its growing GDP and censorship. How to treat this empire today? What image do we make of it, and how to deal with its contradictions?




The small paintings that are shown explore these contradictions by the use given to the images.  Contradictions that are explained by a combination of the grotesque and kitsch. Chinese ateliers where painters make copies of pictures by Western precepts are well-known.  The faithful and sugary reproductions of these copyists have always been a point of consensus. Here they change sides, becoming uncomfortable in face of what shouldn´t be seen. The naturally healthy difficulty we all have in seeing what is terrible is elevated to the highest power. Kitsch at the service of dissension.  The disturbing and unbearable shown as something trivial.




The strategy of artists Ondrej Brody and Kristofer Paetau also explores Chinese idiosyncrasies. They had access to photographs of torture against dissidents in China. They got in touch with twenty reproduction ateliers to make copies according to normal reproduction standards.  Only two agreed to make the copies.  Some of them are shown here, the photographs (also) paint China as it is today.  Perverting political standards: copying what is forbidden. Perverting artistic standards: promoting copies. Perverting representation standards:  separating form and content.




The images were found on an American site about a spiritual group, Falun Dafa, persecuted in China for his spiritual practice and its rapid growth, it already has seventy million followers since its foundation in the beginning of 1990. According to the artists, they had three aims in carrying out this project; 1- to denounce the political crimes in the field of arts (ab)using the existing commercial means of painting production in China and (ab)using the freedom and language of visual arts that intends to allow the works to speak for themselves; 2) to challenge the Chinese commercial painting companies (capitalism versus the communist ideology) ; 3) to criticize the world of arts in total euphoria with the Chinese market –  its exotic appeal and the desire of  gallery owners to gain the market of  Chinese collectors.




Painting China Now  is not knowing what one is seeing, it is the difficulty to recognize oneself in what is being shown; it is the painting of others by another. Brody and Paetau, tortured bodies, kitsch aesthetics, Chinese copyists. It is the composition of these heterogeneous elements that we find disturbing. More than an accusation, it is the traumatic injury of that which cannot be made natural.  A final message to our visitor: forgive us for the discomfort: the world is not for amateurs.

Luiz Camillo Osorio



The critical strategy adopted by Brody and Paetau’s works can be described as “homeopathic” in the sense of similia similibus curantur (that is, “let like be cured by like”): their work reproduces what it pretends to question and to criticize.





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