Friday, October 31, 2008

Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art

Eat your heart out, Jeff Koons.  The Red Guard makes the cross (gymnastic rings?) in that tight mylar sheen. The hat got a bit washed out, but the red star is present live, as is all the might.

This piece welcomes visitors to the Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art, exhibiting works which jauntily captures a modern spirit, and works elements of Chinese society in a readily thought-provoking display. I don't claim to be an art expert, but I enjoy experiencing art as a launch pad to thought and form, possible communication, litmus of freedom, of expression in a society.

The last exhibit I was wowed and invigorated by was the 'explosion' artist Cai Guo Qiang's retrospective at the NY Guggenheim this past spring. His choice of explosives to make work, resonates with the actual ancient Chinese invention, and also the modern means of power. On the micro level, he would explode fireworks with deliberate shapes upon paper, the ignition and 'creation' dutifully recorded, the burn and residue remaining to form the image. This followed Mao's dictum of 'destroying in order to create.' On a macro level, Cai would rig huge designed firework spectacles, usually exploded on landscapes, to show the beauty, the complement of such detonation, where usually we only see it in the context of war or terrorism.  The series known as 'Project for Extraterrestrials' can probably be seen from space, as the Great Wall can be, and positions the work beyond earthling viewership, which to me is huge coming from a Chinese mind.  Yes, he was the one who created the Olympic Opening Ceremonies fireworks, but I'm not clear as to whether he ordered them to be CGI enhanced.
I think one of the coolest things about Chinese characters and advertising is the ability to form architecture with the graphic designs.
The exhibit is centered around one of my favorite philosophers, the daoist Zhuang Zi, and his ultimate notion of illusion:  'Do I dream the butterfly or does the butterfly dream me?'  The story goes that Zhuangzi dreamt that he was a butterfly, flitting about as he pleased, unaware that he was Zhuangzi.  Upon waking, he wasn't sure now if he was ZZ, dreaming about the butterfly, or if he was now ZZ as dreamed by the butterfly. Between ZZ and the butterfly, there must be a distinction: this is what is known as the Transformation of Things.
Zhaungzi's ideas were in full bloom during the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420AD) at a time that resembles the present where curator Pan Qing notes that 'religious philosophies (brand lifestyles) vied for followers (consumers) offering refuge from feudal chaos of the time with a range of promises (products, ads) to make life more meaningful.'

Diana Freundz, another one of the curators, states that 'the exhibition illustrates a case studey in the survival of the pace and potential of the modern day People's Republic.'

The uncertainty of existence is timeless, as we can experience defining moments of reality through our senses, but it can be just as fleeting or as meaningless as the moments of a dream. (and so, photos!)

Is this the China that the artists are dreaming, or are these the artists that China dreams?
I didn't know what to expect, having been disappointed by an exhibit Duolun Museum of Modern Art in Hongkou, which was as deep in form as an ipod commercial, and as slick with irony as a mediocre hipster.  I took photos there, not because I wanted to capture the image, but because I could (and I obviously had no respect for the preservation of the work.)  

Here at Shanghai MOCA, photos were also allowed to be taken, which is still a bizarre concept for me, coming from the western world, where I get berated by museum guards for even talking on a cell phone. I was skittish about flashing here, this time because I did have great respect for the work and the building; but with such a crowd that snaps away, I again, could not resist. I had to rationalize in my mind--I'm giving these artists exposure. And this kind of museum for the people does not have the habit of spending on postcards and catalogues; exclusivity has not a high price at this point. Or is this another rights issue? I would not exploit my chance and try to document everything, just the works that I responded to.
This is called 'Grenade', a work by Jeff Da Yu SHI  (family name capitalized). This one I came back to three times. I just wanted to hang out with it for a long time. It was pretty, much prettier live.  A perfume bottle. With a female leg as it's handle. The grenade pin atop is ready to be pulled by the floating, singular baby. Shiny. Consumption. Danger. Child spoilage. Whim.
A video installation by YE Funa, had a series of 1950's magazine covers, recreated as still life video. A woman in ethnic costume (maybe Xinjiang) sits; it looks uncannily like the cover, until she blink blink blinks.  A Korean woman stands in here traditional costume in the countryside, as two farmers work the fields; it is peaceful, not of this century, when a tour de france type cyclist zooms by. Mao is portrayed with 2 ministers; he fusses and fusses and tries to hold his arm just right. 

XU Bing, a prominent artist in the international scene told a pictographic story with modern icons, along with English and Chinese crawled beneath. XU Bing incorporates Chinese characters prominently in his work. This work is called 'Book from the Ground.' It tells the story of a black man and a grey man on an airplane, communicating by signs in light of turbulence.
Here is the ending:
An interactive component allows you to make comments, ask questions, to which the computer will fashion a response.  
Might the west start thinking more linguistically like the east, where the use of pictures to denote ideas, instead of an alphabet? Nah, English is still the cash language here.
Couldn't find the artist tag for this series of bounded bonsai trees. So incredibly violent, particularly the rusted bolts. It's jarring. I went back twice.
And yes, babies babies everywhere. Everyone love babies. Babies rule. Babies are emperors. And boy are the babies of China happy. They are the receptors of everyone's joy, 6 times over. Even though this sculpture was pretty much in darkness, folks could not stop photographing it. 
My friend Rafael is an artist who, of late, has a series of mini-sculptures called 'Pool Party': a tiny baby figurine is cast in blue resin, the size of an egg, frolicking, flipping, splashing, to form a little pool party of its own. When it is combined with, say, 200 other little blue egg pool parties, it becomes a massive cellular spectacle, particularly luminescent on a lit table. I think that piece would do well in China.
Hong Kong-based artist Michael Wolf has made a 3-walled enclave called 'The Real Toy Story'--the density of the toys on the wall definitely invoked the mass feeling in the city, and then the photographs show the grim-faced workers at their toy factory jobs.
This is a familiar site in many Chinese stores and restaurants: lots of worker napping happening. Workers are featured in another video installation by ZHANG Minjie is called 'Say Simple Words to Hold Your Life.' The first time passing it, a woman stands in front of a storefront saying with bored enthusiasm: 'Ni hao huan ying guang ling!' 'Ni hao huan ying guang ling!' ('How are you welcome welcome.') 'Ni hao huan ying guang ling!'  The second time passing, it was a man, hollering: 'Mai jin wan bao!' 'Mai jin wan bao!' ('Buy tonight's newspaper.') 'Mai jin wan bao!' 'Mai jin wan bao!' 'Mai jin wan bao!' 'Mai jin wan bao!' 
A painting that could absolutely not be captured was a water ink painting called 'Fine Strokes' by the artist XU Yuren. It was a series of very light soft strokes, vertical, no more that an inch, so subtle on the canvas. Blending but distinct, it would make more of its impression as you stood still with it. Even the incidental noise of the museum seemed to interfere with it. Which asked for more stillness, more time.
I'm amazed at the lit cigarette control of making calligraphy...might this be a planar palimpsest?  WANG Tiande is the artist of this untitled work. I know the words have content and meaning, but looking solely at the form, this renders layers of text atop each other, simultaneously received, and then also the negative space in which text is relayed gives my language head a grand whirl. I'm not a usual fan of text in artwork, but this work makes me gladly contradict myself.
YANG Na, 'Dreaming of Mermaid.'
A view from the ramp leading up to the second floor.
Photo of a real girl--a dynastic weight upon her head...all the past's future lies on the one child.
Dionisio Cimarelli, 'Child No. 7, 3, 2, 6.' (Chinese porcelain).
ZHOU Tiehai, 'Bamboo.'
GAO Lu -- 'Scene #4'  ...a large photograph with Goddess of Mercy Guanyin like Lara Croft.
I looked and looked and looked and couldn't understand why these gloves were displayed. Material:  wood.
Am I dreaming that the hinges are butterflies?

This stairwell leads to the third floor called Art Lab.  It is social space with a 60's feel...there's also a deck where you can be served coffee and booze. 
On the wall by the pink, there is the Art Lab statement: 
'Though art originated in the replication of nature, it now attempts to control and understand nature through the application of various media. While artists attempt to create a space in an urban environment, they simultaneously resist becoming nature, aiming rather to create a nature that is controlled or artificial, thus succumbing to our present day lives and expectations in the 21st century.
'...embracing contemporary art that is creating new or 'artificial' environments. Artificial nature stimulates all the senses, not just the visual.'   Hmmmm.  A hollow knock.

Is it something new, or the renaissance of an already established culture?
Can one be awake and awakening at the same time?

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