'White Rabbit' Explores China Dark Side

Sydney -- Judith Neilson weaves through a lunchtime crowd at the White Rabbit Gallery here, and pauses before what appears to be a large pile of building rubble spread across the floor.

Visitors can view it and the other works in her collection, all produced after 2000, at the gallery free of charge.

Art collectors of ArtKabinett social media network have already been there.

Billionaire Kerr Neilson, Judith’s husband and the co-founder of Sydney-based Platinum Asset Management Ltd., set up a $30 million foundation in 2007 to fund the gallery and the Chinese contemporary collection of more than 700 works -- one of the largest in the world.

In the White Rabbit Gallery, a former Rolls-Royce repair depot, the Neilsons aim to give wider exposure to a new breed of Chinese artists who address the rampant consumerism, pollution, censorship and the breakdown of social ties that have accompanied China’s rise to become the world’s No. 2 economy.

In the series “Red Star Motel,” photographer Chili, 32, who was born in Beijing, depicts the debauchery of young people snorting drugs, beating each other and having sex.

Beijing artist and former seamstress Sun Furong, 52, expresses the bleakness of much of her existence by shredding 100 Mao suits in “Tomb Figures,” according to the gallery.

Gonkar Gyatso, who was born in Tibet and now lives in England, captures the dramatic shifts in his peripatetic life in “My Identity.” The four photographic self-portraits show him dressed as everything from a Chinese soldier to a Buddhist monk.

Tiananmen Inspired

Judith, 67, developed a passion for Chinese art after she visited a gallery in Sydney in 1999 and became enthralled with a sculpture by Beijing artist Wang Zhiyuan. He had twisted metal into figures that combine animal and human shapes.

Neilson, who was born in Zimbabwe and earned a degree in textiles and graphic design in South Africa, hired Wang -- then an art student at the University of Sydney -- to tutor her.

She made her first of more than 25 trips to China in 1999 after the Tiananmen uprising, and would ultimately buy works from about 300 artists.

White Rabbit, which opened in 2009, has become a landmark in a country that has undergone an ethnic and cultural transformation. Australia now welcomes as many Chinese immigrants annually as it does British. Mandarin is now the nation's second-most spoken language.

Mao Statue

In the first half of 2013, 35,000 people visited the White Rabbit Gallery, which is located near Sydney’s Chinatown. That’s an increase of more than 30 percent over the same period last year.

Visitors this year saw “A History of China’s Modernization”, shown above with Judith Neilson, by multimedia artist Jin Feng, 51, whose installation conveys the cruel story of his country’s economic upheaval. The work is composed of about 1,000 small marble blocks, cut from a statue of Mao Zedong, which lay in a pile on the floor. Jin carved faces of prominent Chinese, such as the founder of the persecuted Falungong religious group, into the blocks.