The Youth Sale Store
Pékin Fine Arts, Beijing, China
‘The Youth Sale Store’ is a prosaic title, but deliberately so. The global language of exhibition culture is often esoteric: currently on view in Beijing, for example, are ‘The Constructed Dimension’, ‘Garden of Autumn Vapours’ and ‘Relation of Relocations’, to name but a few. In contrast, ‘The Youth Sale Store’ is straightforward: here are some works for sale by young artists. Subtitled ‘Alternative Thinking in Alternative Situations’, this show marks an artist-led effort to transcend curatorial prescriptions and market pressures to forge new places and practices for themselves.
Against a deep-rooted landscape of art funding, education and appreciation in other countries, the situation of Chinese artists is by definition ‘alternative’. China lacks a support system for emerging artists who, not yet established in the commercial realm, have difficulty finding venues and support for their work. The spotlight of the international art market has also dimmed on China’s art scene, revealing a dearth of local infrastructure. Although few non-profit spaces exist, they are small-scale and can be short-lived. ‘The Youth Sale Store’ began as an experiment by a group of young artists in Shanghai who collected works from artists they knew and put these on show for a month. The works were exhibited without any curatorial intervention and with the idea of this becoming a perpetual project – an ever-open ‘store space’ where artists could put their work as soon as it is finished. The project evolved into an itinerant store seeking new venues to inhabit, of which Pékin Fine Arts is the second.
On view are works by 15 young artists. The larger portion are 2D – a series of photographs by Li Mu (‘My Dream in Vilnius’, 2009), along with paintings and drawings, but there are also a number of small-scale sculptures and an animation piece by Ye Linghan. The close-knit display feels refreshing in contrast with exhibitions that present a few works in acres of reverent white space. Hu Yun’s series of quiet, mildly surreal watercolours (including a red piano, a saddle and two feathers side by side) and Liao Fei’s illustrations from a novel in the same medium seem to speak to each other on a level of precise drawing and gentle colouration. Enlivening amongst the works on paper are cartoons by Zhang Fang. Worth a close look are Su Chang’s four mixed media sculptures, of which a miniature version of an old public toilet with rust-run walls is strikingly realistic. Also recreating in miniature is Lu Jiawei, whose ‘Manufacture World’ series (2009) might represent a reflection on contemporary society and its productions, a sensibility particular to the 1980s generation. Prices range from 999 – 20,000RMB, and the poppy flyer proclaims, ‘…Great sale!!! Don’t miss it! ...What are you waiting for…join us RIGHT NOW!’
First and foremost, ‘The Youth Sale Store’ testifies to Shanghai’s enduring experimental art scene, long active but until recently heavily overshadowed by Beijing’s famous painters. Perhaps ironic given the deliberate absence of curatorial criteria is the fact that the pieces convey a distinct unity, not necessarily in form but in feel. Collectively they are very attentive; the works on paper, for example, are conscientious and detailed rather than demonstrative; the scale of the work is not overbearing but personable and ‘local’. Looking at the bigger picture, this could be symptomatic of the present moment. As the dominant figures from the advent of contemporary Chinese art pass their peak and the buzz surrounding the scene lessens to a hum on the international radar, the younger generation must find their feet. What is at stake in this fledgling idea for an exhibition? Far less, perhaps, than if these artists were to shy away from the challenges they face.
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