Critic’s Guide: Shanghai

With the ART021 and West Bund Art and Design fairs opening this week, a guide to the best gallery and museum shows in the city

BY Andrew Stooke in Critic's Guides | 08 NOV 17

Yi Xin Tong, Vomit with Little Skate, 2017, gif image on LED screen, installation view, ‘Alien’ at Vanguard Gallery, Shanghai. Courtesy: Vanguard Gallery, Shanghai

Yi Xin Tong, ‘Alien’
Vanguard Gallery
6 November  – 31 December 2017

The entire gallery space has become unstable in ‘Alien’, Yi Xin Tong’s first solo show at Vanguard. An alien’s presence has caused spatial distortion. An inner tetrahedron structure replaces ceiling, floor and two walls of the gallery. In an exhibition text, Tong describes a mood of delirium. The display of images and videos suggests an unfathomable system of classification, the mysterious taxonomy of the titular extra-terrestrial. Perched high on a beam in the video Alien Who Observes Bird Droppings (2017), a rudely modelled humanoid form with blinking LED eyes, invades the nest site of two small brown birds. The birds express their agitation. This alien persists with its empirical research, demonstrating that even an errant line of excrement becomes an aggressively defended territory in the face of unwanted scrutiny. The video highlights what it means to be free, to look, to imagine, to harbour private dreams and to move on to new ideas.

Xinyi Cheng, Baby's-breath, 2016, oil on linen, 50 x 80 cm. Courtesy: the artist

‘Scraggly Beard Grandpa’
Capsule Gallery
4 November – 22 December 2017

Anfu Lu is expat strip in Shanghai, an artery of Western treats for the visiting international – and urbane Chinese flâneur. Capsule Gallery sits at the end of a lane off the main drag. A door in a wall leads to a secluded garden. Opening on to this patch of green the gallery’s bright space – even the floor is gleaming white – has the feel of a pimped up longtang home. Flipping the dynamic of this setting, the exhibition documents work made at Practice, a meeting place for international artists, founded by expat Chinese artists in New York. ‘Does the meaning of life reside in studying other cultures and reflecting on one’s own?’, asks curator Cici Wu. From the evidence of the exhibition the convivial environment at Practice fostered tender indulgences such as Xinyi Cheng’s portraits, appreciative of swarthy white men, or Seon Young Park’s appetizing arrangements of rainbow-coloured food.

Liu Weiwei, Lost Comrade, 2014, film stills. Courtesy: the artist and 55 Gallery, Shanghai

‘Art is Much Splendid a Thing’
Gallery 55
8 November 2017 – 7 January 2018

The exhibition’s title translated from Chinese, ‘tai duo de ai’ (too much love), to a different proposition in English, the hesitant, ‘Art is Much Splendid a Thing’, reminds me of the awkward titles of recordings by the stark psychedelic noise artist Haino Keiji. These works come from the same primal territory, excavating material in the course of an ungainly evolution, unprocessed, with subjective standards of grace. For example, the camera appears to miss the decisive moment in Lei Han’s photographs and Changzhi Yin’s painted collages oppose every norm of poise and balance. Wang, a real police officer from Chongqing, who is involved in surveillance of Liu Weiwei’s artistic production in the video, Lost Comrade (2014), concludes with the warning, ‘You have been careful recently!’ The implication being that the investigation, and the artist’s project, must continue to gain nuance and sophistication.

Chen Danqing, Picasso No.5, 2014. Courtesy: the artist and Shanghai Gallery of Art

Chen Danqing, Ma Kelu, Feng Lianghong, ‘Why New York’
Shanghai Gallery of Art
1 November 2017 – 7 January 2018

Having originally met in New York in the 1990s, the three dissimilar artists featured in this show now all live and have their studios in China. Their work is enriched by international experience and inflected by the Chinese concepts such as linmo, copying from tradition; and shanzhai, copy-cat facsimile. The influence of Picasso on Chen Danqing is manifest in paintings of open art books showing Picasso reproductions. Feng Lianghong’s take on abstract expressionism is a luminous and layered fusion of Willem de Kooning and Clyfford Still, while Ma Kelu seems to pick up on the work of Cy Twombly. Perhaps he caught his MOMA retrospective in 1994? Twombly’s nodes of intense gestures are caught as if by flashlight in grainy monochrome. Bridging Asian and Western painterly traditions, bunching their work together is like a bouquet of exotic blooms that would not be found growing together in nature.

Li Xiaofei, Sofa, 2017, film still. Courtesy: the artist

‘Precariat’s Meeting’
Ming Contemporary Art Museum
8 November 2017 – 7 January 2018

For this performance-based show, activity spills from the museum’s industrial interior into its precincts, one of many swathes of Shanghai currently pumiced by the abrasion of redevelopment. North of central Shanghai, the museum is removed from the high profile ‘cultural corridor’, known as West Bund, home to a panorama of new and future art museums. The show is predicated by David Harvey’s observation that capital appropriates and extracts ‘surpluses from local differences.’ His words could describe the Shanghai outlook, offering concessions to cultural enterprises that locate facilities in neighbourhoods where local character is suspended, pending rebirth. The ‘Precariats’ are a ‘Supercommunity’, a dispersed multitude of different entities in a single network. Situations in the exhibition celebrate an undigested landscape of interaction and flow. Li Xiaofei’s video, Sofa (2017) maps the production process, exposing the erratic raw materials that are marshalled to make a comfortable seat and a complacent viewpoint.

Miao Ying, Effect #2, from the ‘Effect’ series, 2016-ongoing. Courtesy: the artist

Shanghai Chi K11 Art museum
9 November 2017 – 3 January 2018

Evolving from a pop-up at Art Basel Hong Kong, this show probes the effects of the post-internet era on local contexts. Works such as Cao Fei’s The Birth of RMB City (2009), showing alternative architecture located in Second Life, suggests that virtual space maintains the potential to be both exotic and alienating. China’s internet, although globally the most populous and participatory, is nevertheless still framed, even by some Chinese artists and commentators, as Other. Miao Ying presents the Chinese Firewall as a membrane that can be encountered but whose character remains elusive. Other artists address a liminal space, the world around the interface. Lin Ke’s life at the computer screen is embellished with the visual traits of operating systems, programs and web browsers, while Trisha Baga contrasts the detritus of real life with experiences mediated by the screen. She disrupts the conceit that the internet’s default setting is order and unencumbered communication.

Ming Wong, Next Year / L'Année Prochaine, 2016, film still. Courtesy: the artist, Vitamin Creative Space, Guangzhou and carlier | gebauer, Berlin

‘Shanghai Galaxy II’
Yuz Museum of Contemporary Art
10 November 2017 – 11 February 2018

Yuz museum has done much to raise the bar for art in Shanghai, showcasing canonic modernism (notably Giacometti and Warhol) as well as contemporary works on a blockbuster scale; the knotted airplanes of Adel Abedessemed’s Telle Mère Tel Fils (2008) or Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s Freedom (2009), a grandiose steel tank, animated by a seething high pressure hose. Three years since the museum’s opening it is fitting that this show now gives its generous space, a former aircraft factory, over to Shanghai artists, setting their practice alongside the museum’s ambition. Not all can access monumental resources but Ming Wong’s remake of Alain Resnais’ movie, Last Year in Marienbad (1961), staged in Shanghai with the artist playing both male and female roles, has a cinematic scale, and Wang Xin’s quirky interactive work draws on the potential of legions of other artists. 

Main image: Liu Yi, Hey, Human!, 2016. Courtesy: Yuz Museum, Shanghai

Andrew Stooke is an artist and writer based in Shanghai.