(Un)Design, commerce and artistic autonomy: site-specific art in China

Xin Gu, Justin O'Connor

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Researchpeer-review


In this chapter, we reflect on the complex relationship between art and design in the contemporary Chinese context. More specifically, we look at how this plays out within site-specific art. Informed by two case studies of site-specific projects – Chi K11 in Shanghai and SiFang Art Museum in Nanjing. We explore how some of the traditional oppositions established in vocational arts education – between easel painting and graphic design, sculpture and architecture, new media art and advertising – are being eroded by contemporary art practice in China. This concerns not just the forms and qualities of the products (‘art’ versus ‘craft’ or ‘applied’) but the relationship between high and low, vocation as calling and instrumentalism, art and commerce and their wider social and cultural validation. We suggest that site-specific art has opened up a space for artists to think collectively about their relationship with the market, their function and their public. In this way the kinds of ‘undesign’ being practiced in site-specific contexts tried to disrupt everyday expectations, to set out the unexpected, that which is not immediately available for assimilation as consumer object nor the distancing of the work of art as aesthetic object
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUndesign
Subtitle of host publicationCritical Practices at The Intersection of Art and Design
EditorsGretchen Coombes, Andrew McNamara, Gavin Sade
Place of PublicationAbingdon Oxon UK
Number of pages13
ISBN (Print)9781138695702, 9781138695719
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • site specific art
  • visual arts
  • cultural and creative industries
  • Creative clusters
  • creative cities

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