Letter from Shanghai
Wanted to share with you my observations on the Shanghai art scene as seen during a recent trip to China.
Titled Letter from Shanghai, it was published in the recent issue of New Art Magazine.
It is also on the magazine website at:
Shanghai is an amazing city, rivaling NYC in the ferocity of its energy.
Best regards, tova
Letter from Shanghai.
Sitting at the famous Peace Hotel jazz club sipping wine, I had to constantly remind myself that I am in China. The architecture was Tudor, the music New Orleans jazz (though the musicians were Chinese) and the language was English. That was old glory Shanghai – but the year was 2003.
Located on the East China coast just to the south of the Yangtze River mouth, Shanghai is bursting at the seams with energy and developing with a vengeance. From a $50 million temple of food being renovated on the Bund under the direction of the post modernist Michael Graves to the new steel and glass Pudong International Airport designed by Paul Andreu, the city has become a playing ground to the international architecture community.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Shanghai was the artistic center of China and consequently suffered severely during the Cultural Revolution. Though today’s artistic center is Beijing, Shanghai, in a quest to restore a cosmopolitan status, has invested in cultural venues such as the Shanghai Museum, shaped like a giant bronze urn with a collection of Chinese art, and the striking new Shanghai Grand Theatre designed by Jean-Marie Charpentier, a contemporary interpretation of traditional Chinese architecture.
The HuangPu River divides Shanghai with the old downtown built in colonial times to the west and the new Pudong Development Zone to the east. While the major real-estate developments take place in Pudong, the art center is primarily around People’s Square in the downtown area.
The Shanghai Art Museum for contemporary art, in the renovated former old Shanghai Race Club, is the home of the Fourth Shanghai Biennale. In a desire to address the rampant urbanization shanghai is undergoing, the theme for the exhibition was “Urban Creation”. According to Fan Di’an, one of the chief curators (the other is Alanna Heiss of PS1): "Viewing China through the process of urbanization provides a complex understanding of the great changes that have occurred in Chinese society over the past two decades."
In a series of six photographs titled ''On the Wall'', Weng Peijun depicted a young girl sitting on a wall, her back to the viewer looking at a contemporary urban site. Though a bit sentimental in his approach those photographs taken at different cities around China, speak of an uncertain future.
In a sympathetic detachment Jung Yeondoo, a young Korean artist, led the viewer through a “Chinese Lucke Estate” slideshow into Chinese homes, portraying middle class Chinese families in their own environment, while the German master of photographic special effects, Andreas Gursky paid homage to the crowded Chinese urban environment in a repeated pattern of housing façades.
A popular installation on the museum’s third floor is Navin Rawanchaikul’s “Taximan 2000”. A funky interactive sitting environment made of recycled tires – it is a place for museum’s visitors to take a breather.
The most striking biennial installation was the visceral and theatrical collaborative work by the Beijing couple Lin Tian-miao and Wang Gongxin, “Here? Or There?”. The arrangement integrates nine mannequins wearing costumes made of fabric, silk threads and hair with six elliptical black and white video projections depicting models clad in the displayed costumes floating in and out of an urban landscape.
Across the river in Pudong, in another sign of the times, the first ”non government architecture museum” just opened. Owned and housed at the Lianyang Group, the museum was inaugurated with “Junction; Architectural Experiment of Chinese Contemporary Art” -- an exhibition showcasing work by artists rather the architects. And according to the catalogue preface “such practice of contemporary artists is different from that of architects and its importance lies in unrestrained imagination and the possibility to create and improve architecture”.
As both exhibitions, the “Shanghai Biennale” and “unction” overlap in subject matter, there is bound to be some redundancies in the curatorial choices.
Xiang Liqing’s “Flickering Never” is a series of digital collages made of buildings façades protesting the dehumanization of urban living, while Weng Peijun ‘Riding On the Wall” is a continuum of his “On the Wall” series at the Shanghai Biennial.
A fascinating installation is Chen Yanyin’s “Living Room”. According to the artist the design’s intent was to express an inner pursuit for romanticism. By creating a modern residence with a sitting arrangement made of cut glass juxtaposed by glass walls filled with rose petals, the irony for human desire is unmistakable.
Shanghai’s gallery scene is quite lean. ShanghART, is run by Lorenz Helbling, a Swiss director and shows the work of young contemporary avant-garde Chinese artists. A newcomer in the Shanghai gallery scene is Shanghai Contemporary - Albrecht - Ochs – Wei. Intended on bringing an international program to Chinese collectors, the gallery is showcasing its second exhibition, the Australian artist Tracey Moffat. Selling western art to Chinese collectors might be a tough sell, but in the face of China’s changing society it might be just possible.
I had a chance to visit your website. Your work is impressive especially considering your use of diverse materials.
I noticed you work in both digital and physical book-making. Can you describe the physical book to us? I am always interested in the physical-digital/digital-physical transition in a well-made book.
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