• Ideas
  • Mar 15, 2021

Six Essential Works of Cao Fei

Portrait of CAO FEI. Photo by Stefan Chow. Courtesy UCCA Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing.

Ever since Cao Fei was featured in the controversial “Fuck Off不合作方式” exhibition, curated in 2000 by Ai Weiwei and Feng Boyi at Shanghai’s Eastlink Gallery, she has been known as a chronicler of alternative youth culture. More than two decades later, Cao is having her first career survey in China at UCCA Beijing, “Staging the Era,” which opened on March 12. The retrospective exhibition spans more than two decades of her video, multimedia, and film projects, starting from her art-school days in Guangzhou to her explorations of urban cosplayers, factory workers, and Second Life virtual-reality avatars. In the last decade, Cao has expanded into increasingly cinematic projects while also taking on historical subjects like a former prison complex in colonial-era Hong Kong, in Prison Architect (2018), and the fate of an industrial Beijing neighborhood in her latest project HX (2019–20). Cao has exhibited at major events in recent years, including the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015, and has held solo exhibitions at leading museums and institutions from MoMA PS1, New York (2016) and Tai Kwun Contemporary, Hong Kong (2018) to the Centre Pompidou in Paris (2019), and the Serpentine Galleries, London (2020). Here’s a look back at six works that have defined the artist’s career to date.