In Chippendale Sylvan Doyle finds a gallery of modern Chinese art that upsets old-fashioned Australian prejudices.

White Rabbit Gallery
30 Balfour Street, Chippendale

Speaking with a couple of workmates, the topic drifted to Chinese sports stars, and the idea that fairly soon China might be regularly crushing their rivals on the international stage.

One colleague said China was unlikely to dominate any global team sport like soccer for a long time because they “lacked creativity.” My immediate thought was, “Since when did the world’s great creative geniuses bother playing soccer?” Despite his amazing and hugely varied body of work I haven’t heard it mentioned that Da Vinci was also a gun mid-fielder for AC Milan.

He claimed China would never put together a world-class soccer team because they weren’t creative enough to develop the complex team plays required to achieve success at the top level. About then I started thinking he wasn’t bright enough to develop the complex mental plays required to avoid being a racist knobcrease.

Another colleague chimed in and said Chinese people lack multitasking skills – they are only good at doing one repetitive task. I guess he thinks the factories in China are pumping out thousands of pairs of Nikes by the minute because the simpleminded Chinese love punching holes in leather all day, and it has nothing to do with the labour being cheap as chips.

It will be a while before China wins the World Cup, because it takes a lot of time, money, coaching, momentum and an elite professional league to draw from before any country can put together the kind of team that could win it – not because of any mythical creativity-void on the Chinese mainland.

Whilst some comments are fairly easy to dismiss as racist horseshit, is it actually possible to prove to someone that Chinese people are just as creative as anyone else? Well, yes. By coincidence the week before this conversation I was at the White Rabbit gallery in Chippendale. The gallery opened in August 2009 and spans three floors of a building that somewhat ironically used to be a knitting factory. It showcases Chinese modern art, and for pure originality and creative thought it’s far more interesting than any trip to the Museum of Contemporary Art, or any A-League soccer match.

The gallery is free and rotates entirely new pieces every six months, all by artists from Mainland China. There is an emphasis on the cultural shifts that are occurring as China rapidly develops, which sees many of the pieces reflecting on the sometimes incongruous melding of millennial old Chinese tradition and culture with modern Western materialism and excess.

The variety of styles and genres on show is impressive, as is the obvious talents of many of the more than 130 mainly young Chinese artists on display. If they could just be convinced to give up the art caper, and take to the soccer pitch, who knows what they could achieve?