(1962 – 2017), China

Geng Jianyi Biography

Geng Jianyi is considered a pioneer of Chinese contemporary art, influencing the direction of art from rise to prominence in the mid-1980s, up until his untimely death at the age of 55 in 2017.

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Geng Jianyi received the Outstanding Achievement Award at the China Contemporary Art Awards in 2012. In 2016, he won 'Artist of the Year' at the Annual Award of Art China (AAC).

Early Years

Born in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, Geng studied oil painting at the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts (now the China Academy of Fine Arts). Upon graduating in 1985, he became involved in the '85 New Wave movement and participated in the '85 New Space exhibition held in Hangzhou. Many of the other contributors to the exhibition were Geng Jianyi's schoolmates.

One year later, several participants in '85 New Space, including Geng, Zhang Peili and Wang Qiang, formed the conceptual art group Pond Society. Defying the rigid artistic expression of academic fine art education, they sought new languages, regenerating the fluidity of ideas and reflecting the drastic societal changes of the era.


In his later life, Geng Jianyi devoted himself greatly to his role as an art educator, teaching at the China Academy of Fine Arts and organising a series of art projects. In his teaching role, Geng extended the philosophy of his own artmaking—a belief that art can be learned, but not taught—encouraging students to think independently and to challenge established frameworks.

Many of his students, including Yang Zhenzhong, Lu Lei, Zhang Ding and Miao Ying, have become leading figures in the artworld and are widely recognised both in China and internationally.


With an artistic career of over 20 years, Geng Jianyi worked across painting, drawing, video, performance, photography, print, collage and installation. He experimented with interaction and translation between different mediums and methodologies and infused his work with a tongue-in-cheek humour.

The Second Situation

In the late 1980s, Geng Jianyi, working in oils, portrayed a series of groups of ordinary, identical looking people in urban scenes. Like the other members of Pond Society, Geng preferred repetition and muted colours to storytelling and vibrancy, which culminated in his oil painting The Second Situation (1987). The work, which would later become one of the icons of Chinese avant-garde art, portrays four blown-up black-and-white faces without hair, ears or necks. The mask-like, grinning faces, emerging from a monochrome background, convey an artificiality and cynicism, sneering at the repressive context of the time.


The interrelations and conflicts between social- and self-identities are a recurring theme in Geng's work. On the occasion of the China Modern Art Conference (Huangshan huiyi) in 1988, as part of the work Form and Certificate (Can Be Confessed), he mailed a document to over 100 conference participants.

At once sarcastic and serious, the form posed eccentric questions like '[what is] your favourite plant' or 'your favourite animal', along with general bureaucratic questions relating to the collecting (or violating) of personal information. He completed the work by issuing a certificate to those who replied, which approved their acceptance into the artworld as 'half an artist'.

The Everyday

A keen observer of routines, Geng explored how body movements were translated into visuals, and misinterpreted during the process. In the 1990s, he created a significant body of work using silkscreen to record rhythmic, instructive actions, such as clapping hands and dressing, which can be both quotidian and propagandist. The multi-channel video To Be Your Correct Self (2005) confounds the authentic and parodic in the everyday: one screen showing a recording of the actual scene of labourers at work, while the others show the same labourers in a studio trying to re-enact their own movements. Separated from their original working environment, the labourers try again and again until they are able to copy their own actions.

Readymades function as both an immediate reflection of daily life and an antithesis of the self in Geng's work. The old, outmoded fridge doors used in his 'Door' series (2008) speak to the context of the refrigerator, an imported product that put an end to the Chinese tradition of cellaring and changed the living style of ordinary people. On the doors, Polaroids capture transparent bottlenecks in front of windows from different angles, invoking a contrasting tranquil intimacy.


Geng famously claimed that artwork is completed 50% by the artist, and 50% by the audience's perception. The concept is embodied in Waterworks (1987/2022), a large, labyrinthine installation that invites the viewer to walk through. Holes cut in the wall and framed in gilt generate ephemeral portraits as the viewer passes by or stops, forging a precarious relationship between looking and being looked at. Unrealised during the artist's lifetime, the work was later staged in Who is He?, Geng Jianyi's major retrospective at Power Station of Art, Shanghai.

The suspicious image

Geng Jianyi was one of the pioneers of video art in China. In his videos and video installations, he frequently used approaches like detaching the visual from the acoustic, and replicating, distorting and appropriating images, redisplaying them on various monitors until they became unrecognisable and suspicious. His first video work, Dimension of Vision (1996), was shown in Image and Phenomena, 96' Video Art Exhibition (1996), which is widely recognised as the first group exhibition dedicated to video art in China. The three-channel video provides an unsettling close-up of the convulsive eyes of a dying duck along with two dark screens, disrupted and made increasingly disturbing by the out-of-sync sound and image.

Exhibitions and Collections

Geng Jianyi's solo exhibitions include: Who is He?, Power Station of Art, Shanghai (2022); Stubborn Image, OCAT Shanghai, Shanghai (2016); East to the Bridge, OCAT Shenzhen, Shenzhen (2015); Wu Zhi, Geng Jianyi Works 1985-2008, Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai (2012); Geng Jianyi, Excessive Transition, ShanghART, Beijing (2008); Book without Words, Geng Jianyi New York Solo Exhibition, Chambers Fine Art, New York, U.S.A. (2006); Geng Jianyi — Useless, BizART, Shanghai (2004); Watermarks, ShanghART Gallery, Shanghai (2001).

Selected group exhibitions include: M+ Sigg Collection: From Revolution to Globalisation, M+ Museum, Hong Kong (2021); The 57th Venice Biennale, Venice (2017); Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2017); Gwangju Biennale 2014, Gwangju (2014); The Seventh Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale, OCAT, Shenzhen (2012); Thirty Years of Chinese Contemporary Art, Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai (2010); The Real Thing, Contemporary Art from China, Tate Liverpool, U.K. (2007); Zooming into Focus, Beijing National Museum of Art (2005); 5th Shanghai Biennale_: Techniques of the Visible_, Shanghai Art Museum (2004); 4th Gwangju Biennale (2002), Living in Time - Contemporary Artists from China, Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin (2001).

Significant collections include Art Institute of Chicago; M+ Collection, Hong Kong; Tate, London; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Marianne Brouwer & Chris Driessen Fundament Foundation at Chassé Kazerne, Breda; and Uli Sigg Collection, Switzerland.

Shanyu Zhong | Ocula | 2023

Geng Jianyi
featured artworks

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Door Series by Geng Jianyi contemporary artwork mixed media
Geng Jianyi Door Series, 2008 Refrigerator doors, Polaroid photos, magnets
ShanghART Request Price & Availability
Stubborn Image D-3 by Geng Jianyi contemporary artwork installation
Geng Jianyi Stubborn Image D-3, 2016 Signal lamp, motor, hand paint
20 x 20 x 29 cm
ShanghART Request Price & Availability
The Reason Why Classic Is (154-1) by Geng Jianyi contemporary artwork works on paper, mixed media
Geng Jianyi The Reason Why Classic Is (154-1), 2000 Mixed media, Book, Water color on paper, 72 double pages with hard cover
19.4 x 26.7 x 1.7 cm
ShanghART Request Price & Availability
Stubborn Image C-4 by Geng Jianyi contemporary artwork mixed media
Geng Jianyi Stubborn Image C-4, 2016 Hand paint on lens glass by mark pen
5 x 15 x 32 cm
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Untitled 12 无题 12 by Geng Jianyi contemporary artwork sculpture
Geng Jianyi Untitled 12 无题 12, 2015 Wooden case, torch, slide projectors, film (positives and negatives)
200 x 160 x 45 cm
ShanghART Request Price & Availability
Untitled 7 by Geng Jianyi contemporary artwork installation
Geng Jianyi Untitled 7, 2015 EL neon rope light, iron frame
300 x 147 x 100 cm
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Untitled 6 by Geng Jianyi contemporary artwork installation
Geng Jianyi Untitled 6, 2015 silicagel tube, EL neon rope light
120 x 100 x 100 cm
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Geng Jianyi
recent exhibitions

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Represented by this
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ShanghART contemporary art gallery in Singapore
ShanghART Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore
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