This article examines the discourse of abstraction among Beijing intellectuals in response to the artist Wu Guanzhong's 吴冠中 (1919–2010) published essays on formal and abstract beauty from 1979 and 1980. By introducing Wu through a new critical lens that emphasizes his writings and institutional critique, the author addresses how abstraction was repurposed for early post‐Mao China. Where institutional elites in Beijing regarded painterly abstraction with unease, owing to its continued associations with the bourgeois‐capitalist art worlds of Paris and New York, this article shows how Wu performed an aesthetic intervention through writing, utilizing scientism and Maoist logic to filter abstraction through the still‐hegemonic language of radical materialism, which allowed abstraction to take hold as a renewed term of engagement in the early post‐Mao art world by 1983. This article is a shortened version of a chapter in the author's recently published book.

You do not currently have access to this content.