The Best Shows to See during Gallery Weekend Beijing

From Zhang Yufei’s solo show at Click Ten Art Space to a group show at Long March Independent Space, here’s what to see during the seventh edition of Gallery Weekend Beijing

BY Nooshfar Afnan in Critic's Guides , Exhibition Reviews , Reviews Across Asia | 25 MAY 23

Zhang Yufei

Click Ten Art Space

15 April – 7 June

A pink framed work with pink chinese text that reads "I am your dad" or "dad I am you"; at the center, abstract marks
Zhang Yufei, I Am your daddy, 2018, watercolour on paper, 76.5 × 56 cm. Courtesy: the artist

At Click Ten Art Space, Zhang Yufei presents a deeply personal body of work that examines the intense emotions of family relationships. Over the past five years – a period during which the artist, having become a father himself for the first time, was prompted to reflect on his sometimes-strained relationship with his own father – Zhang has produced watercolours, oil paintings, mixed-media works, installations and videos, many of which are on view here. In the watercolour I Am your Daddy (2018), a repeating loop of five Chinese characters arranged around the edge of the work could either read ‘I am your dad’ or ‘Dad I am you’, while a series of gentle lines in the centre, vaguely resembling cacti, evoke young children’s drawings. Zhang, a seasoned tattoo artist, draws on both the visual vernacular and the techniques of body inking in his art. This rather austere aesthetic contrasts with the soft pink fabric that often appears in Zhang’s canvases and mixed-media works, such as Beijing Youth (2022), where it is depicted draped around the borders of a painting depicting a partial bust of a Roman youth. Some paintings, such as Father, I am you (2021), are bound with soft suede and contain hand-stitched elements, highlighting the artist’s fine-motor skills and personal tattooing style. A small installation, Beautiful Gift (2023), consists primarily of used tattoo needles arranged on a ring – an effective symbol of the intertwining of pleasure and pain in familial relationships.

Geng Jianyi

UCCA Center for Contemporary Art

18 March – 11 June

A pedestal with a book upon it, surrounded by open trash bags full of items
Geng Jianyi, The Needs of Negative Reality, 1995, installation view. Courtesy: the artist

Despite achieving critical acclaim shortly after graduating from China Academy of Art for paintings such as Two People Under a Light (1985) – a pair of semi-abstract figures with expressionless faces, starkly lit from one side – Geng Jianyi chose not to adopt a signature style but, rather, continued to expand his artistic practice until his death in 2017. In addition to painting, Geng experimented with conceptual sculpture, installation, artist’s books, photography, video and paper sculpture. More than just a practitioner, however, Geng was also a deep thinker about art and its role in society: one of his life-long preoccupations was seeking to bring contemporary art to the broader public. This ambition was, perhaps, best exemplified by his belief that a successful artwork should be 50 percent the work of the artist and 50 percent the audience’s input. Simple, everyday actions form the substrate for his work. In Useless (2004), for instance, people were invited to donate objects they no longer needed, which Geng then sorted through and exhibited as artworks. Co-curated by Karen Smith and the artist Yang Zhenzhong – a former student of Geng’s – ‘Who Is He?’ provides an unparalleled opportunity to experience the range of his thoughtful practice, with many of the works on display being exhibited in Beijing for the first time.

‘Walking Guides’

Long March Independent Project

20 May – 27 August

A wall full of black and white images depicting routes around the city on the delivery guide
Jason Ho, Following a Delivery Guy for Three Years, 2010–14, installation view. Courtesy: the artist

Michel de Certeau argues in The Practice of Everyday Life (1980) that we both subsume and subvert the rules of built societies to our own personal ends. In a chapter entitled ‘Walking in the City’, for instance, De Certeau argues that pedestrians can undermine the plans of governments and corporations by taking unexpected routes. This idea – strolling as a radical, individual act – forms the nucleus of ‘Walking Guides’, a group show featuring 16 artists and collectives, curated by Li Jia at Long March Independent Space. Jason Ho’s Following a Delivery Guy for Three Years (2010–14), for example, uses maps and other graphic means to document the various routes undertaken by a food delivery driver between his village and the students at Jimei University in Xiamen City. In Bye Bye, Barrier! (2022), Wan Qing and Zhang Hanlu film themselves making their separate ways across the city, navigating the many barriers set up during the pandemic, to meet and exchange their respective footage above a barricade. Elsewhere, Li Binyuan’s Buffering (2016) comprises video and photographic documentation of a performance the artist undertook after losing his studio. Wandering the streets with a wooden sign attached to his back that read ‘Li Binyuan’s studio’, the artist both protested the conditions that led to the loss of his studio and implied that – as might be inferred from De Certeau’s argument – a studio can be anything you want it to be.

Hu Wei

Macalline Art Center

21 May – 3 September

A red room with two video screens upon which people face in different directions
Hu Wei, ‘Touching A Fabric of Holes’, 2023, installation view. Courtesy: Macalline Art Center

Focusing on the margins of society – in particular the overlooked minorities struggling in remote regions of China – Hu Wei’s practice spans video, sculpture and mixed-media installation, all of which are featured in ‘Touching a Fabric of Holes’, curated by Huang Wenlong at Macalline Art Center. Part documentary, part fiction, the video installation Long Time Between Sunsets and Underground Waves (2020–21) tracks the Bajau people of Basha Island, which has its own unique ecosystem and marine-based economy that operates without a traditional currency. Although the island is technically part of Malaysia, its residents claim no national identity and consequently exist outside of international law. The Rumbling (2023), a three-channel video set on an island in southern China, sees geopolitical and geographical history intertwine at the site of an abandoned quarry. Despite having supplied rock to numerous building projects, including Hong Kong airport, the quarry closed in 2002, leaving the island – which once served as a stopover for those fleeing the mainland – almost deserted, its population dwindling year on year.

Chris Zhongtian Yuan

Macalline Art Center

21 May – 3 September

A small white architectural box on a shiny metal cabinet
Chris Zhongtian Yuan, ‘No Door, One Window, Only Light’, 2023, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Macalline Art Center

Chris Zhongtian Yuan’s first institutional exhibition in China, curated by Clement Huang, showcases four video works as well as a number of installations and sketches. Commissioned by Macalline Art Center, the artist’s new three-channel HD film, No Door, One Window, Only Light (2023), builds on previous videos, such as Wuhan Punk (2020), in its unique blend of archival material and digital animation as well as in its themes of memory and resistance. Revolving around the artist’s friend, who died in 2022, the film poses the poignant question: ‘How do we simultaneously forget and remember during moments of personal and collective amnesia?’ Yuan’s architectural training as well as their passion for music and sound are evident throughout the works. Architecture in Love (2023), for instance, is one of a series of white, minimalist, small-scale sculptures of buildings, based on Yuan’s memories of the architecture of their hometown. Constructed of 3D-printed resin and displayed in and on metal filing cabinets, the sculptures evoke an uncanny sense of the abandoned, the industrial and the familiar. The exhibition’s second instalment, ‘Home is Where the Music is’, will open in the UK at Reading: International in June.

Main image: Chris Zhongtian Yuan, ‘No Door, One Window, Only Light’, 2023, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Macalline Art Center

Nooshfar Afnan is an art writer and critic based in Beijing, China.