BY Yuan Fuca in Critic's Guides | 20 MAR 18

Critic's Guide: Beijing

Ahead of the second edition of Gallery Weekend Beijing, the pick of the shows to see in the city

BY Yuan Fuca in Critic's Guides | 20 MAR 18

Xie Nanxing, Spice No.3, 2016, oil on canvas, 3 x 2.2 m. Courtesy: the artist and UCCA, Beijing

Xie Nanxing, ‘Spices’
17 March – 27 May

Installed in the Nave, Long Gallery and Central Gallery at UCCA against a lime-green backdrop, Beijing-based artist Xie Nanxing’s seven major oil paintings serve as an informative path that traces the evolution of European oil painting from the Renaissance to modern times. Escorting the viewers through the artist’s obstinate misreadings of Western art history and iconography, the show takes its title from Christopher Columbus mistaking a kind of Caribbean tree bark for a new spice. Famous art historical scenes such as Lucretia or Europa, resisting rape; a nude beauty descending a staircase; a group of men and women reclining on the grass; and a kind of Carravagian Supper at Emmaus (1601) are staged, recalling masterpieces by Titian, Giorgione, Édouard Manet, and Marcel Duchamp, among others. Along with the artist’s preparatory sketches and supplementary audio material, each scenario is revivified through a unique personal touch and irreverent artistic vocabulary, becoming a critical site for rethinking the politics behind epistemological structures.

Li Shuang, T, 2018, four-channel video installation. Courtesy: the artist and Taikang Space, Beijing  

‘Genders Engender’
Taikang Space
22 March – 19 May

Curated by Li Jia, this group show is one of only a few ambitious yet pragmatic endeavours that attempt to recognize the role of everyday life and social activities in constructing today’s gender narratives. Projects such as ‘Writing Mothers,’ initiated by Huang Jingyuan, attempt to discover the potential of a feminist critique offered through the lens of family life. Xiaoshi Vivian Qin’s gossipy art magazine Ruthless Lantern examines mass media rhetoric and how gossip functions as the major infrastructure in today’s media beauty contests, and artist duo Mountain River Jump! works with different forms of folklore as linguistic and visual ‘cultural psychoanalysis’ to contemporary reality. United Motion, a long-term activist project, focuses on art world distributions of labour and self-regulation as well as the conditions of its practitioners within which the issue of gender is a continuous concern. Through three workshops, events and ongoing discussions, ten individual artists and collectives and guest participants aim to progressively form a common practice around gender construction.

Paul McCarthy in collaboration with Damon McCarthy, White Snow The Feature, 2013, still from four-channel video. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth © Paul McCarthy; photograph: Joshua White 

Paul McCarthy, ‘Innocence’
M Woods
17 March – 17 June

Californian bad boy Paul McCarthy’s visceral, taboo-bashing, disturbing representations often appropriate icons of popular culture and childhood – Santa Claus, Barbie, Snow White and Heidi – and show these characters degenerating into violence and depravity. For his solo show at M Woods, McCarthy has chosen to present a survey of video works, a major medium continually revisited by the artist during his career. From the early black and white documentations of actions like Whipping a Wall and a Window with Paint (1974) to the single-channel colour video Painter (1995) to the seven-hour epic White Snow (2013), McCarthy’s own creative path reflects the evolution of video art in production and address. In addition, the artist has flipped the museum back to front, leaving only the back entrance accessible: an invitation that lures the viewers into his messy, antagonistic, sexually explicit and politically-charged world. The structural change also plays on the metaphor of the art museum’s backdoor and the anus, a typically McCarthyian inversion of authority and social norms.

Liu Wei, Airflow, 2018, cement and glass mirror, dimensions variable, installation view, Long March Space, Beijing. Courtesy: Liu Wei Studio  and  Long March Space, Beijing; Yang Chao Photography Studio 

Liu Wei, ‘Shadows’ 
Long March Space
18 March – 16 May

Entering the gallery, visitors have to navigate through the exhibition’s title installation series Shadows (2018), which showers paint onto metal appendages which both reflect light and engulf shadows. Inside, the artist has transformed the gallery into a construction site and filled it with balloon-shaped cement assemblages, Cycles (2018). Each piece loses its way in the midst of the various urban detritus and abstract illumination cast from a multi-channel video work (Period, 2018). Together and individually, these three configurations are disorientating. By extracting visual tension from raw materials and their forms of urban existence, Liu Wei’s work resembles the deliriousness of the landscapes around him. As the visible world disappears in accelerated speed and the city is folded between highly symbolic order and post-planning disorder, shadows might be the only places in which to distinguish our physical presence.

Liu Gangshun, Don't Stop Don't Stop Don't Stop Don't Stop, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 1 x 2 m. Courtesy: the artist and Platform China, Beijing 

Liu Gangshun, ‘Midnight Press’
Platform China
3 March – 1 April

Curated by Cui Cancan, ‘Midnight Press’ is the third and final chapter of the three-month exhibition ‘All’ dedicated to Beijing-based artist Lui Gangshun’s 20-years creative journey. Liu, an idiosyncratic case in Chinese contemporary art history, was actively engaged in the new wave of the fine arts movement in 1980s and later founded the Post-Human Book Store in Huangshi, Hebei Province. Drawing from Western and Chinese avant-garde traditions, his body of work is constructed through a driven force of self-expression and knowledge building in avidly-adapted rigorous forms. For instance, the conceptual painting Don’t Stop Don’t Stop Don’t Stop Don’t Stop (2012) repeatedly hints at willpower through personal situations. Sourcing from a broad range of references, from fluxus, to abstract expressionism, to French Nouveau Roman writers to Chinese avant-garde artist Huang Yongping, Liu creates a dazzling atlas of personal expressions that echo those early moments of artistic enlightenment in 1980s China.

Liang Wei, From Tomorrow, 2018, acrylic, water colour pencil, ink on canvas, 1.4 x 1.9 m. Courtesy the artist and Magician Space, Beijing

Liang Wei, ‘Before Itself’
Magician Space
22 March – 6 May

For her second solo exhibition at Magician Space, Beijing-based Liang Wei presents a series of abstract paintings generated from her constantly-evolving imaginative world. By changing specific images – Song landscape paintings, people-filled stadiums, goats – to something suggestive, these meticulously arranged compositions disrupt the picture plane and uncouple the connotations attached to these images. The result feel like a space between the abstract and the representational. Inspired by Song dynasty painting techniques and calling on a generous worldview, Liang’s creative process hints at her concern for articulating an alternative way of expressing the inexhaustible chaos of our world and challenges the viewer to restore order.

Documentation of Yunyu Ayo Shih and Richard Kuan on site at ShanghART S-Space, Beijing, 2018. 

‘Shared Narrative(s)’
ShanghART S-Space
22 March – 22 May

Set in ShanghART Beijing’s project space, ‘Shared Narrative(s)’ is a curatorial project combined with solo, two-person and group shows. Organized within a compatible framework, the studio-like space acts as a site-specific occasion, allowing daily artistic practice, improvizational endeavours, and unexpected interactions to take place. For its first episode, curator Miao Zijin invited three artists from different cities to work collaboratively to question the nature of their new setting. Taipei-based Yunyu Ayo Shih cleaned the dusty tubes of the radiator system beneath the floor, with Beijing-based Richard Kuan documenting the entire process while the two reminisce on shared experiences as MFA students. Elsewhere Guangzhou-based Lin Aojie created a monograph of his own works as an addition to the glossy catalogues of established artists represented by the gallery on display. Through this collective process of exhibition installation, the mechanisms of human relationships and their role in aesthetic judgement become apparent.

Gallery Weekend Beijing 2018 runs from 23 – 30 March.

For more exhibitions to see in Beijing, head over to On View.

Main image: Xie Nanxing, Spice No.7, 2017, oil on canvas, 2.2 x 3 m. Courtesy: the artist annd UCCA, Beijing

Yuan Fuca is a writer and curator based in Beijing. She is the co-founder of curatorial studio Salt Projects and the magazine dedicated to artist writing Commonplace.