Zhang Huan at Shanghai Art Museum
Zhang Huan's show at the Shanghai Museum of Art was cancelled a year ago, his prominence and enigmatic art proving too rich for the authorities. Then recently it emerged that the show would proceed. This development was unexplained and, in the year of Expo and heightened security, unexpected. So, belatedly Shanghai has greeted its most famous immigrant. Zhang Huan's first solo show in China, and his first exhibition in China since returning from New York in 2006, is extraordinary but also extraordinarily subtle. more»
Art Market / Ben Moore
‘200 One Dollar Bills’ got hammered at $43.7m USD and Doig’s ‘Reflection’ at $10.2m USD. That’s big ... more»
Obsession in art is a many-hackneyed thing, blithely presenting middle-class angst as an overheating nuclear core. There are exceptions. Some obsessive art is theatrical, a medium for other ends, often commenting on political or sexual mores. That of Marina Abramovic or Louise Bourgeoise provide good examples. Other times it is really obsessive, like Yayoi Kusama’s art, pulling us into a transcendental and beautiful absurdity. And with yet others again it is seductively fun, winning us over with its child-like charm. But pause a moment, don’t be deluded. A maelstrom is difficult to predict and cannot be controlled. True obsessive art always retains the capacity to sting. Three shows currently on in Shanghai let us explore this turf a little further. more»
Tang Song's Butterflies at White Manor Art Space, Shanghai
You enter through via a private lane that leads to the quiet courtyard of a large, newly renovated and gleaming white 1930s Villa. Overhead netting appears to have been thoughtfully installed to keep out leaves and Summer's mosquitos. Or has it?
White Manor's opening exhibition showcases a famous and infamous but also reticent artist: Song Tang. Infamous because twenty years ago he assisted his then girlfriend, artist Xiao Lu, with her performance 'Last gunshot' in the “Grand Modern Art Exhibition of China” caused the exhibition to close for a while. The piece involved shooting two shots at her own installation artwork Dialogue, 1989. At the time it was shocking enough in post-Cultural Revolution China but a few months afterwards it gained further resonance. It was 1989.
After the shot was fired she handed the gun to Tang Song and ran. Both were arrested but little more happened as both were apparently protected by their family connections in the Communist Party. Tang Song himself was photographed grinning as the police carted him off. These days, the artist is less sanguine but the astringent nature of his art remains as strong as ever.
Reference: Peng Lai After 1989: Where Did They all Go? , Artzine website, www.artzinechina.com. . more»
Xu Zhen wants to get to the essence of things and he uses a meld of minimalism, performance and conceptualism to do it, with a dollop of humour to make the medicine go down. Firstly, the fundamental nature of the materials in his artworks is examined until they become discarnate and absurd. Thus in 'It' (2008) the bizarrely contested memory of a footprint on the moon is reduced to markings on a speck of dirt, viewable only through a microscope. In 'Abstract painting Nr.1' (2008) the star spangled banner becomes just stars and spangles, something for the jingoistic disco. In 8848 - 1.86 (2005), a work which examines the relationship between truth and trust, Everest is conquered by decapitation - a most democratic form of appropriation, its peak then displayed as a trophy in a museum cabinet. Clearly this work was a response to the sincerity of Zhang Huan's famous performance work To add one meter to an anonymous mountain (1995), which deliberately ignored the obsession with national and nationalist symbols, such as the Great Wall or the Yellow Mountains, of the prior generation of Chinese artists. I suspect 'Untitled' also refers to '8848 - 1.86'. Here the architecture of a man-made mountain has been decapitated, removed from its 'true' environment by a displacement of its purpose, religious or otherwise. After all, no one can take a house of cards seriously, can they?
Secondly, Xu Zhen examines the fundamental nature of the artistic act through what he terms 'interventions', disruptions in activity which intensify, pervert or break a particular 'act'. Examples include organizing an unexplained demonstration in the series ????????????????????????????? [sic] (2004) or, In just a blink of an eye (2007), a performance which leaves someone literally caught in an eternal fall, never landing but also never recovered. In the film Rainbow, an anonymous back slowly turns red from slapping. We hear the slapping but do not see it, just its effect. Is it an assault or consensual? Does it hurt? Xu's aim is clearly to provoke. In the case of Untitled, the intervention is somewhat different, comprising its construction by a team of agents and its destruction by chance, an invisible intervention. Like It and 8848 - 1.86, it is also a disruption of history, given that in living memory China has been prone more than once to Quixotic acts that ultimately founded in failure, particularly the Great Leap Forward in the 1950s. Again I am minded of K. and his Sisyphean attempt to be recognized by the uninterested bureaucracy of the Castle.
Art's métier is the poetry of uncertainty. It forms discussion in the febrile atmosphere of interpretation rather than elucidates scientific findings. To the vast majority of Chinese, given the nature of indoctrination, Tibet remains an 'indivisible' part of China. That some of Tibet's residents, one-time or otherwise, may be reluctant to accept such familial generosity is beyond comprehension. In China's view, the People's Liberation Army liberated the Tibetan people from poverty and serfdom, which is true, up to a point. It also freed them from a nepotistic, theocratic dictatorship, which is also true, up to a point, but then to each their own poison. And liberation has brought substantial development to Tibet, though for some perhaps more so than others - Han Chinese migrants for instance. So it remains that the two sides cannot engage with one another, nor is it foreseeable that they will. Untitled is far more subtle and ambiguous than mere agitprop however, one way or the other. As one of the pre-eminent conceptualists in China, Xu Zhen's gaming with different materials is focused on the essence of truth, of its complex nature and how we mistreat it. The palace is ever so precarious, regardless of who resides there. A gust of wind could blow it all away and in the couple of weeks since I first saw it, some parapets have already crumbled. And China hates instability, after all, they have had quite a bit of it in the last 150 years. But, despite every attempt to tie it down, meaning remains inherently unstable. The suits, diamonds, hearts, spades and clubs, do they speak of wealth, love, work and war? What is the meaning of the jokers on the ramp? Whatever their meaning, it remains deliberately incoherent. So who laughs last here is infinitely questionable and history is a sometimes wry, sometimes cynical game of chance. In the words of Kenny Rogers, you got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away and know when to run. more»
Art Radar Asia
Christie's Asian Contemporary Art sale on 1 December was surprisingly encouraging for the art market, at least the Asian contemporary art market, although perhaps not too much should be read into that just yet. Nevertheless it was successful. Some commentators have moaned that only half the lots did anything and in any event that estimates were restrained. This is just silly. In the present financial environment it should have been a disastrous sale. Going by previous economic downturns, it would have been. But for some reason it did ok, in fact more than just ok, and right now that "ok" is very impressive, even 'encouraging'. Interpreting this is difficult but it probably has a lot to do with the massive expansion of the art market since the last major downturn in the late 80s (by comparison the Tech Crash was just a wobble) and the fact that the market has also matured enormously since then, becoming vastly more professional, transparent (yes, compared to where it used to be, it is now positively crystal) and its consumers more numerous and as a whole better educated. To see whether Christie's sale was a one off or whether there is real significance to be gleaned from it, we'll just have to wait for further similar sales around the world in the next 6 to 12 months.
One of the artists who made the sale successful was Li Hui, a conceptual artist who works in diverse mediums including transparent neon-lit perspex sculptures and laser beams. Born in 1977, he graduate from Beijing's Central Accademy of Fine Arts in 2003. Since then he's been very busy and has gained a lot of attention, particularly from Taiwan and Korea, but not so much in the West. Until now.
On sale at Christies was Lot 912 Amber (2006), a transparent LED lamp, acrylic and stainless steel sculpture in the shape of a generic sports car and encasing the (also transparent) skeleton of a huge reptile. This work was previously shown at the 2006 Shanghai Biennial. It looks just stunning. As for its intellectual games, well for now I leave them to you. Christie's estimate was HK$500,000 - $800,000 (USD $64,808 - $103,692). It's sale price was HK$1,580,000 (USD$204,879), a sliver shy of double the highest estimate. And just to prove it wasn't a mistake, a similar work Lot 913 went for HK$1,160,000 (USD $150,418) or almost 50% higher than the high estimate. And this is not the first time he has done this. Li Hui's work has been outdoing estimates for a while. See for instance Christie's May November 2007 and May 2008 sales. The figures are impressive enough but that is only half the story. Remember that Li Hui is still quite young, only 31. Also remember that these works are not paintings, there is no Pop Realism or Political Pop to be seen. This is very refined conceptual art. It might look cool but it still demands that you think hard about it. In this context, the sale prices are event more impressive. By no means is Li Hui's work easily affordable art but I have no doubt that its market price is headed in one direction only. more»
The week that the world's financial markets went plop, I spent in an art induced haze, a miasma of schmoozing and boozing, all because of the enormous, vast, gigantic Shanghai Art Week. It isn't actually called that. It isn't actually called anything. But with 1 Biennale, 2 international art fairs, and over 70 museum and gallery openings, it should be. more»
Art Radar Asia
You can visit the website of Art Radar Asia at artradarasia.wordpress.com more»
Interview with Piers Secunda - Space StudiosI remove paint from the traditionally applied 2D Surface, force the use of paint into the 3D, and then develop my own language within that space. more»
If you have ever seen a portrait of a horse then you have probably seen George Stubbs (1724-1806). In particular you have probably seen Whistlejacket (about 1762), one of Britain’s most popular paintings. But what makes it popular, enduring and indeed any good? more»
He is clearly celebrating the emotional regression and sexual perversion of Japanese manga comics, even as he claims to critique the genre.
The Economist, April 19th, 2008, page 96 more»
Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth installation has a very specific intention, according to its artist. Shibboleth, a giant gaping crack the length of Tate Modern’s turbine hall floor, is astonishingly crafted. It does not represent a huge crack in the floor, it is one. more»
I stood outside the Neue National Gallerie in Berlin at night watching a man in a bear-suit padding back and forth alone inside the foyer of Mies van der Rohe’s modernist meisterwerk. And the sight was bewitching.
Sometimes a curator is like a cowboy herding cattle through tumbleweed plains and rocky gulches, constantly under attack from displaced Iriquois and mean Gene Hackmans. Other times its all Prada Meinhof, aloof and dust-free. In recent years the many types of curators have grown like pimples on a teenage trainspotter. more»
If you are born of the artist tribe it is a waste of time to try to function as a priest. You have to be faithful to your angle of vision, and at the same time to fully recognise its partiality.
The eponymous heroine in Lawrence Durrell’s Clea (Faber and Faber: London, 1960, p.102) more»
The same problem of Western misinterpretation arises with Australian Aboriginal art as in Chinese art. It is now trite wisdom that when a viewer interprets a work differently from the artist it does not make that interpretation less valid. If it ignores this other context though, then it is often an impoverished interpretation. How can westerners appreciate Aboriginal art within ... more»
I recently bought a photo-litho print by Yang Longhai. It is a portrait of Mao taken from the Chinese 100RMB note which is a dark pink colour. Mao's portrait appears on all denominations of Ren Min Bi notes, the "people"s currency". Yang's image is the reverse of that on the face of the note: the portrait visible on the reverse when the note is held up against the light. It is ... more»
What's wrong with Chinese art?
China receives a lot of criticism, some deserved, some misplaced, some simply wrong. Similarly, Chinese art is often cast as superficial, clichéd, repetitive, over-hyped and over-priced. Chris Moore, Saatchi Online's China correspondent, examines the reasons why this is, from deeply felt nationalism and the absence of independent critics to the fact that 12 years ago there was no contemporary art market in China. more»
Inbetween: Anish Kapoor, Shiro Kuramata, Kengo Kuma
Toshio Shimizu, curator of the 2000 Shanghai Biennale, has produced SGA’s best show since Michael Lin’s 2008 solo. ‘Inbetween’ presents the work of artist Anish Kapoor, designer Shiro Kuramata and architect Kengo Kuma, in an interplay of “materiality/non-materiality and transparency/non-transparency” that questions how we understand pure space and surface.
(For full article see magazine)
Roger Hiorns nominated for Turner Prize
A flat on a run down estate in south London seems an unlikely place to be a setting for an art work that paved the way for the artist to be nominated for this years Turner prize but this is where I found myself on a cold blustery day in late 2008, sitting huddled with a cup of tea. The anticipation and excitement brewing as I waited to view the art piece ‘Seizure’ by Roger Hiorns. more»
A Rat, a Rabbit, a Dragon, and the Saint Laurent-Bergé Auction: How the Opium Wars cast a long shadow over cultural restitution
Last month over three days Christies in Paris auctioned the Yves Saint Laurent-Pierre Bergé collection, one of the largest and most important sales of the last 100 years. The collection fetched a staggering total of €374,392,500, beating all records for private collections sold at auction. Seven new world records were set for artists selling at auction. Matisse's painting 'Les coucous, tapis bleu et rose' sold for 35,905,000 euros, a sculpture entitled 'Madame L.R. (Portrait de Mme L.R.)' by Brancusi went for 29.2 million euros, and a Duchamp 'readymade' perfume bottle with a Man Ray photograph of the artist dressed as 'Rrose Selavy' reached 8.9 million euros. The sale has been tarnished, however, by controversy surrounding two bronze sculptures, the heads of a rat and a rabbit, which were looted from the Beijing Summer Palace in 1860. The controversy continues this week with news that Cai Mingchao, a collector and auctioneer, who submitted the winning bid of 31.4 million euros for the two bronzes, has no intention of paying up. Meanwhile, in a poll carried out by Le Figaro last week over 80% of its readers said that the bronzes should be returned to China.
The Beijing Summer Palace (Yuan Ming Yuan) was created by the highly cultured Manchu Emperor, Qianlong (1736-1795). It was a private playground for the imperial family and a vast storehouse for everything intellectual, beautiful and sensuous, from its extraordinary library to its cellar of fine French wines. Valued members of Emperor Qianlong's court included Jesuit missionaries, who brought much European learning to the court, including trigonometry and horology. Whilst not permitted to proselytise, the missionaries were commissioned to build some European buildings and gardens in a corner of the Palace grounds, including a technically complex objet d'art fountain designed by Frère Michel Benoist (1715-74). The fountain was based on the Chinese astrological calendar and decorated with 12 anthropomorphised animal fountainheads representing the 12 star signs. These would spout water at different times of the day according to their sign and simultaneously at midday. The master planner, Frère Giuseppe Castiglione, probably designed the heads himself. With the death of Benoist, so also died knowledge of how to maintain the fountain and it fell into disrepair.
In 1860 a navel incident between China and Britain broke the peace during the Second Opium War. British and French envoys, including the eminent Harry Parkes, were sent to Beijing to negotiate a settlement. On the second day of talks the emissaries were taken prisoner. Most were killed or died of starvation, including The Times' correspondent, Thomas Bowlby. In response, French and British troops marched on Beijing. A French contingent stormed the Summer Palace. Two weeks later the British High Commissioner to China, Lord Elgin (whose father infamously removed the Parthenon friezes to the British Museum) heard about Bowlby's death and immediately ordered the burning of the palace as retribution. In doing so he though he was distinguishing between the government and the people. His French counterpart, Baron Gros, had wanted to raise the Forbidden City and Beijing as well. In 1901 Stanley Lane-Poole, describing Harry Parkes' time in China, wrote "The clouds of smoke, driven by the wind, hung like a vast pall over Peking. From an artistic point of view, it was an act of vandalism. From that of sound policy, it was statesmanlike." That sounds typical of the time and disconcertingly similar to the Bush administration's arrogant neglect of Iraqi cultural treasures since the invasion in 2003.
Han Chinese were not fond of the Manchus, whom they saw as invaders with a cavalier streak of violence and, in the case of the Summer Palace, extravagant excess. The sacking of the Palace was so horrific, however, that many scholars of the day sided with the Emperor. Whilst the Palace itself was little loved, it was a vast repository of China's cultural history, one rather longer than anyone else's. Over 200 buildings were filled with a host of treasures, including a copy of the Siku Quanqshu, a cohesive library comprising 3,461 titles or 168,000 volumes, the only complete surviving copy of which was taken in 1949 by the retreating Nationalist Kuomintang to Taiwan.
After the Palace had been looted, unsurprisingly the locals joined in but the French and British soldiers had already thoroughly ransacked everything. Five of the 12 heads have been recovered (one was used in a Los Angeles residential pool), the fate of another five is unknown. In September 2007 the Macao casino and real estate tycoon, Stanley Ho, bought the horse-head from a Taiwanese collector at Sotheby's for $8.84 million dollars, then a record for a Qing Dynasty bronze. He donated it to China.
What makes the heads attractive is their historic value rather than their aesthetic qualities. As art, the heads are really second-rate French kitsch. They are no match for the work for Antoine Coysevox (1640-1720), such as his 'Fame and Mercury Riding Pegasus' (1698-1702), which was in the Tuileries Palace in Paris (destroyed in the Revolution) and now prominently resides in the Louvre. More importantly, Chinese bronzes of the period, let alone earlier, are much finer, examples of which may be seen in the British Museum and the Guimet Museum in Paris. In a sense the theft of these rather dull works is equivalent to stealing a German cuckoo clock from the Queen...whilst burning down Hampton Palace, the British Museum and Cambridge University. Which is to say, a cuckoo clock is still a cuckoo clock, even if it is dressed up as a fountain. Its cultural value is thus not materialistic but arises from the grotesque circumstance under which it was stolen.
China complained bitterly that the two heads in the Yves Saint Laurent- Bergé sale should be returned to China, and a Chinese 'NGO' challenged the sale in the Paris courts, to no avail. Bergé added his own incendiary perspective, pledging he would donate the heads to China provided it allowed the Dali Lama back, recognised human rights in Tibet and allowed the Tibetans to practice their religion in freedom. China was apoplectic. Chinese overwhelmingly view Tibetan dissidents as renegades who ungratefully ignore the modernisation and liberation China's warm embrace has brought Tibet.
The sale proceeded and the heads were bought for a total of 31.4 million euros. Judging the auction outrageous and extortionate, the Chinese Government prior to the sale had said that no Chinese national should buy them. The buyer, Cai Mingchao, a collector and an advisor to China's National Treasure Fund, has said that his bid was a "patriotic act". "The auction...defied the ethics of international society and breached the rules," he said in an interview in the Shanghai Daily this week.
The reality is that cultural restitution laws do not apply to art works removed such a long time ago. If they did, ownership of many art works in various museums (including the Elgin Marbles) would be clearer. Cai's actions are hugely popular in China, with only a few fretting over the possible damage to China's reputation (though it is hard to conceive that it will make the slightest difference). In the meantime China has introduced import controls that would frustrate the sale post facto anyway. Separately, potentially punishing export controls have been placed on Christies. From now on, The State Administration of Cultural Heritage, or SACH, has ordered officials to scrutinize artefacts that the auction house imports and exports from China, and any antiques whose ownership and provenance is unclear will not be allowed to enter or leave. Whether this will also apply to Hong Kong is unclear as yet.
Bergé has said that if the sale doesn't go through he will keep the two bronzes, but there is nothing to stop him selling the heads privately.
Members of the group that brought proceedings have now founded an international network of lawyers to fight for restitution of Chinese looted relics. This popular and populist issue will continue to grow in China as Chinese power and confidence grows and also because international public and private collections are packed with artefacts of uncertain provenance. Exploiting what might be termed an 'identity politics overhang', restitution will no doubt increasingly also be linked to matters such as Tibet and human rights. Indeed the irritation such tactics cause China will only encourage them further.
How, you might ask, could the sale of two bronze sculptures cause such upset in China? What happened to the pair of animal fountainheads is emblematic of imperialist crimes committed against China and is a distraction from ones committed closer to home. A vast amount of China's cultural heritage has been destroyed, not least by its own inhabitants but then China is hardly the only nation to have inflicted injury upon itself. That is no excuse whatsoever for the actions of the invaders, which constituted one of the more heinous single acts of cultural desecration in history.
Lives and works in Berlin
2008 Georg Meistermann Bursary
2002 - 2007
Universität der Künste (UDK), Berlin
Masterclass with Lothar Baumgarten
2007 Study trip to Shanghai
2006 Study trip to New York
Double Back, White Trash Contemporary, Hamburg
Tracy, Galerie Nomadenoase/Golden Pudel Klub, Hamburg
Straßenbläser, NBK-Studio, Berlin
der R´n´R der Kims, Autocenter, Berlin
Nach der Hitze 9, Galerie Oel-Frueh, Hamburg
Affinity, OV Gallery, Shanghai
Nach der Hitze 10, Cluster, Berlin
Bitte schön!, AZKM, Münster
Ad Absurdum, Städtische Galerie Nordhorn
Eurasia One, Island 6, Shanghai
Infernesque Grande, Heidestraße, Berlin
Heavy Rotation, Uferpalast, Berlin
Wucherungen und Wandnahmen, Städtische Galerie Nordhorn
Preview Berlin, with White Trash Contemporary, Hamburg
Video now!, White Trash Contemporary, Hamburg
Disco Darvin, Städtisches Museum Gelsenkirchen
Success is Destiny, UDK Berlin
Wahn-Sinn, Essenheimer Kunstverein
Montblanc Cutting Edge Art Collection
The oil business comes up in particular in 'Business as Usual--The Tower', with three "see no evil, hear no evil, say no evil" monkeys balancing precariously on one another atop an oil barrel. Just to underscore the point, the barrel is on its side. In the elegant Art Deco stairwell of the gallery, is a ringmaster monkey with an Abraham Lincoln hat and goatee, a reference no doubt to the final scene of the Planet of the Apes. But this Abraham squats on a Brancusi pedestal. more»
Shi Jing's highly conceptual meditations on art and art history burst from the wellspring of sensory experience, embracing and exploiting all traditions. The result is that he makes you see afresh what you thought was familiar and banal, he forces you to look obliquely. more»
The Song Dong mini-retrospective at Zendai Museum was one of the absolute highlights of the entire week and a trenchant justification of art photography's shift towards performance. I will write further on this in an upcoming article. Similarly the Gao Brother's Some Space for Humanity at ifa gallery. The installation of their huge photographs in the confining space of the gallery's new premises in an old villa reinforces the Gao Brother's musings on how people physically and philosophically relate to constructed spaces. more»
Financial Times - letter by Ben Moore on art investment
Ben Moore's response to Luke Johnson's article, Artful practitioners of a confidence trick , 3 September 2008. more»
frieze Writer's Prize 2008
Shen Shaomin’s I’m Chinese looks very different to previous work: skeletons of mythical creatures, tortured bonsai trees, a model of the Tiananmen gate as military base. Look again. Ninety minutes long, it has the feel of a documentary, questioning distinctions between mass-market film and video art. Is there really a distinction between a found object and a found situation? Well, only if you want one. Artificial distinctions, whether semantic, racial or otherwise, eventually collapse under their own illogic, which is all meat to Shen Shaomin. more»
Saatchi Online , the premier international internet art magazine, has appointed Chris Moore as their correspondent for Shanghai. Saatchi Online receives more than 60 million hits a day. You can read Chris's articles by going to www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk/blogon/ or follow the links in the right hand column on this page. more»
Chris Moore's published response to review by Edan Corkill of 18 June 2008
Click here to read article more»
List of articles
An English Bear in Berlin - Mark Wallinger
Berliner lust for art
Dead art: Damien Hirst and Picasso - upcoming
Deng Xiao Ping's children - the 1980's generaton - upcoming
Grayson Perry on Aboriginal art: worthy but uninspiring
Picasso and Duchamp
Taste, price and pretension
The big picture: Andreas Gursky vs. Candida Höfer
The promiscuous art lover
Under Western Eyes
Top 10 Shows in Shanghai in May
Cai Guo Qiang / Peasant Da Vincis at Rockbund Art Museum
Cai Guo Qiang plays spectacularly with originality, freedom and ingenuity in the newly opened Rockbund Art Museum in the former Royal Asiatic Society building near Shanghai's Bund. Particularly bewitching are his kite-projections memorializing the fatal first flight of a 'peasant' aeronautical engineer.
4 May - 25 June
Sydney Biennale 2010
Roll out the tumbrels and get knitting. The Archibald Prize for Portraiture needs to be guillotined. Symbol of all that is wrong in Australian art, the Archibald represents how ossified, twee and irrelevant Australian artistic taste is. Meanwhile the country's real artistic potential rots. It either goes to waste or goes overseas, into exile. And things wont get better until there's a revolution. Blood needs to be spilt. more»
2009 Top 10 Shows in Shanghai
1. Yang Fudong: Dawn Mist, Separation Faith, Zendai MoMA
2. MadeIn: Seeing one's own eyes - Middle Eastern Contemporary Art exhibition ShanghART and James Cohan New York
3. Zhou Xiaohu: Military Exercises Camp - Rescue Plan 10,18, BizArt Centre
4. "Bourgeoisified Proletariat" at Shanghai Songjiang Creative Studio
5. Matters of Faith: Anselm Kiefer, Nam June Paik, Bill Viola and Xu Zhen, James Cohan Shanghai
6. "Wu Wei - Being & Nothing", with Cindy Ng Sio Ieng, Ben Houge, Shi Zhiying, Wang Hui, and Wang Jun, art + shanghai
7. Bei Li Liu: In between, Elisabeth de Brabant
8. "The shape of things to come", 140sqm
9. Jiang Zhi: Attitude, Osage
10. The ones that got away...History in the Making: Shanghai 1979-2009 curated by Biljana Ciric at the Ke Centre
10. Liang Shaoji: You si miao - an infinitely fine line, presented by Shanghai Zendai Museum of Modern Art Co-organized by ShanghArt Gallery. more»
Seeing one's own eyes' is the inaugural exhibition of MadeIn, a new company devoted to creating art and led by Xu Zhen, a leading Chinese conceptual artist.(1) The exhibition is subtitled 'Middle Eastern Contemporary Art Exhibition' (Mec[c]a) and the title itself is drawn from the Koran:
My way, and that of my followers, is to call you to God, on evidence as clear as seeing with one's own eyes. (Sura 12, Verse 108)
This refers to the duty of reflection, exhorting the devout to be critical rather than blind followers. Obviously the exhortation is one-sided: not too critical, not in the wrong way - but critical nevertheless. Before you even enter the exhibition, you have been put on notice. more»
A cartoon Sistine stairwell at Pictet Asset Management
30 March 2009
Pictet, a Swiss private bank, recently revealed the latest addition to its art collection – site-specific wall drawings by Diann Bauer covering the stairwell of its London headquarters. Norman Foster designed the stairwell, so its 17 tonnes of concrete and reinforcing doesn't pretend to hide itself. 15 feet in diameter, it is a unique space. Many wouldn’t even have thought of installing art in it. Pictet confidently took a different view, commissioning Diann Bauer to produce six vast drawings. The huge, unprotected sheets of paper, too large for the artist’s own studio, hang on the stairwell walls suspended simply by magnets.
Recalling the cartoons stenciled onto walls for renaissance Frescos, the technique used by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, Bauer’s drawings are a wild combination of breasts and horses and clouds and people being ripped apart - perhaps unwittingly bringing together finance and tragedy, a Last Judgment. In counterpoint to Foster’s precise design however, the style of Bauer’s drawings is inspired not by Michelangelo but the pop-eyed absurdity of Terry Gilliam, cartoons in both the sense of an outline and a parody.
In a recent interview Bauer said, “architectonic language in the form of drawings and models, is something that has always haunted my practice.” Architectonic language can sound like mumbo-jumbo but in Pictet’s stairwell it is where architecture and drawing come together. Too often stairwells are merely utilitarian, paths between floors. Here the path becomes an exciting journey. Your progress up or down is literally made through the drawing. It confronts you from constantly changing angles, from up close to far away, directly and obliquely. It is a drawing that draws you along.
As long as Pictet's employees and clients know what they have (and can keep their grubby fingers off it when descending the staircase) then what an asset, in every sense, Pictet has won. Sadly, largely only employees and clients will have the pleasure of seeing it. Corporate and private collectors alike usually do not have the time or resources to give the public access to their collections and at present there is no formal Open House exhibition program covering London. There should be. Certainly some collectors are covetous of their horde but plenty would be only too happy to share their collections with the public. All it would need is a little coordination. As to whether such a program would be successful, one need only look to the great popularity and influence of open private collections, such as the Saatchi Gallery in London and the Boros and Hoffmann collections in Berlin.
I envy those working at Pictet, seeing and living with this space everyday, everyday seeing something different in these complex cartoons, everyday a confronting joy – not what most people get when they pick up their morning coffee.
Thanks to The Contemporary Art Society and Pictet Asset Management.
For more information see - www.paradiserow.com more»
A lavish banquet of contemporary Chinese art is currently on show at the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) in Brisbane, Australia. GoMA's sister, the Queensland Art Gallery, is famous for its Asia Pacific Triennial (APT), the only regular Australian exhibition of international moment (much better than the Sydney Biennale, although there is hope that will improve with new director, David Elliott). The first APT in 1993 did something rare for the time, concentrating on contemporary art from across Asia. Given the APT's sheer breadth, it has an astoundingly good record of picking future world stars. Cai Guo Qiang, Zhang Xiao Gang, Zhang Huan, and Xu Bing were all picked up by the APT relatively early their respective careers.
The China Project is really three exhibitions at once. It begins with a survey of the last 30 years of Chinese art, drawing heavily on the QAG's excellent collection but thoughtfully supplemented with private loans. Some work is of more historical than artistic interest but plenty are both. I was particularly impressed by Shen Shaomin's woodblock prints from the mid-1980s, which are at once wonderfully abstract and also historically poignant, referring to Mao's 1957 speech encouraging criticism by the intelligentsia:
"Letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend is the policy for promoting progress in the arts and the sciences and a flourishing socialist culture in our land."
Those who did so tended to disappear, permanently.
But back to the video art, at the centre of which often lies humour. Yang Fudong's pastiche of time and crime in 'City light' is deliciously charming and funny. Yang Zhenzhong, best known for balancing Shanghai's Oriental Pearl TV Tower on his finger, continues the absurdity with '922 rice corns', a counting race to see which of two chickens eats the most corn. Zhang Peili's ring of 8 videos invites us to join in some competitive ballroom dancing. Zhang Huan's '12 square meters', filmed in a public toilet, definitely does not though. Here is his description of the process:
My body was covered with honey and fish juice, and before long, flies were all over my body, even my lips and eyes...In the course of the hour, I tried to forget myself and separate my mind from my flesh, but I was pulled back to reality again and again. Only after the performance did I understand what I experienced. An hour later, I walked out of the toilet and into a nearby pond that was polluted with garbage. I walked until water covered my head and hoards of flies struggled on the water to save their lives. Zhang Huan, ' A Piece of nothing' in Melissa Chiu (ed.), Zhang Huan: Altered States, ex. cat., Edizioni Charta, Milan and Asia Society , N.Y., 2007, pp.58-59.
And it doesn't end there. Along with Song Dong's 'Stamping the water', Zhang Song's 'Seven Character Quatrain', Qiu Zhijie's 'Landscape' and He Yunchang's 'Dialogue with water', this part of the exhibition really forms a primer in Chinese video art. Brilliant stuff. more»
The focus of this subtle and seductive exhibition is the human and artistic relationship to transformation. Divided into four parts and using mountains and ink as Leitmotifs, Wang Tiande meditates on permanence and efflorescence, tradition and modernity.
First up Wang Tiande makes us measure ourselves against his height by walking through a doorway which has been lowered to the artist's own height. You are forced to see things literally from his perspective, or like me nearly decapitate oneself. Chinese humour can be cutting, particularly for lanky wàiguórén.
Emerging from the doorway, a mountain of coal confronts you. 'Yuhuangshan' or 'Beautiful Yellow Mountain' makes claustrophobic the normally spacious environs of Contrasts Gallery. The title references China's Yellow Mountain (a frequent subject of Chinese ink painting) and surely also Shanghai's 'modern mountains', such as the famous Jin Mao Tower and new World Financial Centre which overlook the city's old Bund area where the gallery is located, the gallery itself in a 1930s 'skyscraper'. The title is a play on words as Yu is also the character for jade, contrasting coal with a precious stone. Here the displacement of material and meaning represents the material, both literally and conceptually: transportation can be transformative. The coal has been mined from deep underground (a dangerous job in China) in order to be shipped to Shanghai and converted into a mountain - another transformation: the miner as sculptor?
As you squeeze around the mountain, you come across a video work showing Wang Tiande meticulously making a landscape model out of ash. In a photograph, 'Melancholy Mountain' (Gushan) looks like a traditional ink landscape (shanshuihuà in Chinese or "mountains and water painting"). The ash was produced by burning calligraphy books published by the famous Xiling Engravers' Society. It is a nice 'contrast' to another of the gallery's recently famous artists, Zhang Huan, and his paintings and sculptures made of ash from incense sticks used in prayers at Buddhist temples (art made from the stuff of dreams, as one reviewer put it). Wang's landscape should not be understood, however, as an amusing imitation but as a 'real' landscape of ash, of incinerated ideas and work. Here Wang is drawing a relation between life cycles and transformation, the material and immaterial, the permanent and ephemeral: paper, a Chinese invention, is both absorbent and combustible and Chinese ink is made of carbon, and human and historical associations swirl like smoke in the background.
Around the corner the theme is developed further. Here is a display of what at first glance looks like traditional calligraphy and landscapes. Closer inspection reveals that above the ink artwork floats a palimpsest of calligraphic burns drawn with a cigarette. The palimpsest protects but also confuses, makes indistinct the artwork beneath it and thus is a figure not merely for Chinese history, learning and art but for the destruction/transformation involved in knowledge and memory generally. Importantly, the only clear if circumscribed 'view' of what lies underneath is through the burned holes, the palimpsest's calligraphic negative.
In his catalogue essay, Gao Minglu, a professor at the University of Pittsburg, notes that the aspect of fire in Wang Tiande's work relates not to destruction but the spiritual nature of burning - "although 'burning' is the complete destruction of the physical form, it can achieve pure spiritual 'Nirvana'". Transformation by fire is a general theme in contemporary Chinese art. I have already mentioned Zhang Huan but also relevant in this regard are Cai Guo Qiang's fireworks and Song Dong's burning mirrors. Gao further notes that in China "burning" can also refer to infatuation with the ashes: "This correlates with the "imperfect beauty" or "ruined beauty" (canque mei) in Chinese aesthetics."
The hilarious finale involves a giant 'stockmarket' LED display, 'Tiande Investments', tracking the 'values' of various famous Chinese contemporary artists. As we have learnt recently, investments can go down as well as up ('tiande' refers to 'sky'), and here we see cresting graphs create profiles of mountains, each one individual, drawing us back to Wang Tiande's at once humble and proud one meter seventy-three entrance, which confronts you again as you leave. The electronic display is another transfiguration between the material and the ephemeral: the conversion of art into financial information and back into art. In front of the display is a grid of sixteen Rachel Whiteread-like 'ash' coloured cubes for anyone to sit on and, who knows, perhaps even burn an incense stick.
Wnag Tiande: One Meter Seventy-Three
8 September 2008 - 22 March 2009
181 Middle Jiangxi Road
Shanghai has saved its most stunning show of 2008 until last. Li Hui's 'Samsara' is extraordinary and if you have the chance to see it, you must. It transforms the Buddhist concept of reincarnation into a parable of technology's transfiguration over humanity - how it does it and how we want it. This is no nightmare, however, rather a play on the uncertain nature of metaphor, how the delusional or strengthening character of hope, its sincerity and sentimentality, are refracted by technological development, which is as much human as technical or scientific. Indeed even the distinction here between humanity and technology is itself artificial, linguistic and relative rather than material. more»
A review can easily be overwhelmed by content, ceasing to have critical form but becoming instead a list of items, or art-ems. So how does one reduce a Carême banquet to a single multi-vitamin pill? - with the arbitrary and bloody sacrifice of a bunch of art-ems. So it is with Qiu Zhijie's 'Ataraxic of Nanjing Bridge - A Suicidology'. more»
The plain trees hum with cicadas. Down a laneway old women natter, a paper collector on his tricycle rolls, pinging a pot lid. The iron gateway is unimposing but the name promises much: James Cohan Gallery - the first New York gallery of note to open in China, beating by a few weeks the much heralded Pace Wildenstein opening in Beijing. Step through and you find yourself in a lush garden gazing at a still opulent but faded Art Deco villa. The Cultural Revolution slogan is clearly visible above the patio doors, through which can be glimpsed a vast seascape photograph by Wim Wenders. The arrival of James Cohan Gallery has quietly and nonchalantly changed the Shanghai art scene. more»
"If you're happy clap your hands" at Andrew James Art this month deserves applause. In concept and execution it adds up to more than the sum of its parts, and the parts are good. A group exhibition of Japanese artists born after 1980 asks whether material wealth and a consumer culture can ultimately satisfy. When these artists were born Japan was undergoing a development boom, a course China is currently embarking upon. But "If you're happy" is much more than a cautionary tale about glitter and gold. The six artists are also products of what they analyse and criticise, products which acknowledge the ambiguity and absurdity of their existential crisis. more»
AroundSpace in Shanghai is celebrating its first anniversary with a group show of fifteen artists. It's an unwieldy number but curator and gallery owner, Jeff Zou, manages the problem by splitting the exhibition thematically between the gallery's two exhibition spaces. The first, on the ground floor of a former opium dealer's villa, has decorative plaster cornicing and rice-paper covered walls. Here the exhibition endeavours "to explore and re-interpret the value of traditional Chinese aesthetics in an Up-to-Date circumstance" and more or less does so. more»
Shen Shaomin, famous for simulacra skeletons of monstrous animals, has recently demonstrated a commanding facility with other media. In two exhibitions in Hong Kong and Shanghai we see him branching out into bonsai, model-building and film. His rigorous and provocative thinking continues unabated. more»
Mixing installation and video-art, Zhang Ding (born 1980) is quickly emerging as one of the most provocative and intriguing of China's new generation of artists. He came to wide attention with his show last year at ShangART gallery in Shanghai, which played on the theme of fragility and violence, using cactuses as his leitmotif. There was a huge scalpel machine for slicing them (Tools 3) and another machine for watering/torturing them to death (Tools 2). Most confronting was a dual-channel video of the artist hitting a boxing bag of cactuses, covered in sweat and with bloodied fists (Boxing No. 1 & 2). To bring you back from this shocking scene was another shock: a 'mountain' of fridge-amplifiers which you could very loudly detonate (Tools 1). more»
The Sydney MCA’s decision to promote its Fiona Hall retrospective with posters featuring the glass bead skull from her Understorey (1999-2004) trivialized an important artist and spectacular work. more»
There has been a steady increase recently of Emperor’s new clothes articles regarding the Chinese art market. Generally they have equated the popularity of kitsch for excessive exuberance. The critics themselves have ranged from art cynics to respected critics, including Waldemar Januszczak of The Times, whom I greatly admire. Here is why they are wrong. more»
An engrossing article on reputation and appreciation, Hitting the spot, was published this week in The Economist (19 Jan. 2008). According to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Antonio Rangel of the California Institute of Technology, expectation materially affects enjoyment of something. In the study people were given 5 samples of wine, ... more»
Why own a book when you can join a library? asked a promiscuous friend. In his case I couldn’t fault the logic. When it comes to art it is a different matter. It is fine to visit a museum, drop by an opening, go to a block-buster exhibition of pantheon artists, but it is desolate to go home to empty walls. Minimalist homes are fine in magazines but boring to live with. Besides, ... more»
I am often casually asked, over dinner or at a party say, whether I think a particular work is a good investment. My interlocutor has either just purchased or is about to purchase the work in question. Very often the work has nothing to do with or is in any way similar to any work we have in our collection. more»
As world financial markets appear less sure-footed than for many years it is worthwhile remembering that the first market to suffer in a recession is art. As the eddys from the US mortgage crisis widen, it appears increasingly likely that the world is about to suffer a substantial economic downturn. A credit crisis will immediately affect the art markets in all major world ... more»