Art exhibition to open in Sicily, amid Chinese-sponsored complaints

Written by by Morgan Sturdivant, CNN Italy, China

Citadel, a massive art exhibition created in China by five controversial young Chinese artists, will open in the Italian city of Tirano on Saturday, amid protests from Beijing.

Presented in a huge glass cube located on the seashore of the Tuscan town, Citadel explores “the act of keeping one’s mind, head and body active, in an environment of events and dramas,” according to its website.

The pieces aim to convey what’s driving young people to become “disillusioned, frustrated and unsuccessful in such a way that they feel alienated and incomplete” in contemporary China, according to its creators.

The Tianxia Sun Art Foundation, responsible for the installation, and the artists have strongly denied accusations of political “propaganda” made against the display by the Chinese embassy in Rome.

Art installations may be banned in China

Chinese state media claims the exhibition exposes young people’s “destructive and destructive tendencies,” while the Chinese Embassy in Rome criticized the Tate Gallery, where Citadel was shown, for its “blind support of the Japanese fascist regime,” and said that Taiwan was a part of China.

The embassy warned visitors not to “participate in and encourage such attacks against the image of China.”

Nonetheless, the embassy’s tweet, which has been retweeted more than 11,000 times, was swiftly criticized by Chinese netizens for obscuring the event’s true purpose.

“To which scandalous accusations or falsehoods does the Embassy of Taiwan in Rome pour water?” noted one viewer on Weibo.

The ‘biggest injection of cash’

Bao Tong, a former aide to the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping and currently a high-profile media personality, warned of the show’s potential to inflame the already strained relationship between the two countries.

“This (exhibition) event is probably the biggest injection of cash by one country into another country for no reasonable purpose that is based on its own national interests,” he said in an interview with China Daily.

Bao is among the artists at Citadel, and his breakout piece comprises a giant podium of words, etched on the walls like black spray paint, which spell out “Ji Kun Xin” (“Don’t be Doubted”).

Members of local artist group Piacenza. Piacenza (

The words have been a source of consternation among the local community in Piacenza, a city 300 kilometers (186 miles) northeast of Milan that hosts the exhibition at its new Palazzo Vedega. Piacenza is home to a large number of ethnic Chinese residents.

“I think the intention of the city has been influenced by an impulse of revenge. This ‘Chinese Gulag’ has the original appearance of an Italian concentration camp,” said Teng Chongying, a local artist, in an interview with Reuters

Shi Xinyu, the founder of the Tianxia Sun Art Foundation, said the words are intended to evoke “the deprivation of intellectual property rights in China,” according to The Guardian .

Shi Zhenhui, a founder of the Tianxia Sun Art Foundation. Tianxia Sun Art Foundation / “A Gesture for the Chinese people”

The words were originally taken from the inner circle of Jin Weimin, who was one of the founders of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

Similar paintings featuring the characters will be added to the Citadel sculptures, Shi Zhenhui said.

After a four-year delay, Sicily chosen for Citadel

The installation is the first major art exhibition of its kind in Italy, where art censorship has historically been limited.

The exhibition was designed and created by Chinese artist Wang Kun, and is funded and developed by the Tianxia Sun Art Foundation. It was initially due to take place in May 2014 in Taichung, but was delayed due to licensing and insurance issues.

Despite protests by local ethnic Chinese communities, Sicily was selected as the next venue because it’s “an area of Italy that currently lacks an international cultural event” in order to attract the interest of Chinese tourists, added Manuela Boschi, former owner of the Chinese travel agency Ibiza Time Travel .

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