We've sifted through the bullshit to bring you three of the best exhibitions happening this month, especially for these grey rainy days. All these shows are happening until at least Feb 8, so you’ve got a minute.
Gao Lei's Solo Show
[Gao Lei, Room 106 II, 2014]
Arario Gallery opened in Shanghai last summer. It’s the newest franchise in a group of galleries and museums that self-made retail mogul Kim Chang-il started in Cheonan, Korea and has since expanded to Jeju Island, Seoul and Beijing. Eventually Arario realized things weren’t working out in Beijing and instead opened up shop in a Xintiandi clone near the western end of Xujiahui Park. It’s a cool space, and the current show by Gao Lei is a real production.
[Gao Lei, Room 106 II, 2014 (detail 01)]
With the outside world hidden behind a heavy curtain and the reception desk walled off out of view, the show is immersive and theatrical. Just inside the door, an aluminum leopard balances on a trapeze wire, balancing with the aid of a pole draped with chainmail flags in bronze and copper. Large target paintings are positioned at either end of the room.
[Gao Lei Exhibition View at Arario Shanghai]
Gao was born in Changsha, Hunan Province, in 1980. His work often hints at tensions between the individual and society. Upstairs is “M-275”, a set of giraffe legs bound to a cage full of chains. The gallery had to smash the second floor window to get the thing inside.
[System-Safe Mode 2014 Saw Blade]
Another key piece is “System — Safe Mode”, a tartan of saw blades bolted together that covers two walls. The blades are united but rendered inert, made safe but denied their basic function. It’s what society might look like stripped of, say, cleavage and wordplay. The show continues through February 8.
Zhao Renhui's "The Nature Collector"
[Artist’s Studio 14th December 2014]
It’s too cold for insects in Shanghai right now but Zhao brought plenty of them with him from his studio in Singapore to ShanghART, inside the M50 art complex. A long line of glass vials, filled with ethyl alcohol, displays all 150 bugs he collected in one night, having left the lights on and the windows open in his studio.
The works in Zhao’s exhibition mostly riff on ideas about entrapment and evolution. As well as the line of jarred insects, the show includes a composite photograph depicting 4,784 members of the same family of flies, which differ radically in size, shape and coloring — some looking more like bees and wasps in order to fool predators.
In addition to the complex natural forces driving evolutionary change, Zhao is interested in the ways human culture is railroading the process. He photographs a tusk-less elephant, a group growing in incidence because of their irrelevance to ivory poachers. Similarly, he photographs a proboscis monkey named Adam, who was engineered by scientists in Japan with the addition of the human foxp2 gene, known as the language gene.
[Monkey That Talks]
The show also features images of traps, including an intense Yves Klein blue used to entice bees and a bear trap camouflaged in the jungle. The work that’s most comfortable in the chilly, white gallery space, and perhaps the most compelling piece in the show, is a 300kg square of baking soda, representing snow, into which is set an eskimo knife dipped in blood. An accompanying painting of blue text against a paler blue background explains how such a setup can be used to attract and kill a wolf.
The wolf begins by licking the blood on the knife, then “because its tongue has been numbed by the cold of the frozen blood, the wolf is unaware that he is being cut, and the blood it now tastes is its own. Excited at the prospect of fresh, warm blood, he would will hungrily lick the blade all the more”, ultimately dying of blood loss.
Zhao’s fascination with the ingenuity of traps, and the ways different species respond to threats, are more complex than mere environmentalist scolding. Yet Al Gore, whispering in my ear, can’t resist pointing out how the wolf seems emblematic of humanity’s threat to itself, our inability to perceive the way our various hungers could ultimately endanger our survival.
The exhibition continues through February 18, but if you visit soon you might also be able to see the Xu Zhen solo show taking place next door in ShanghART’s H Space, which features this handsome deity covered in barbecued pigeons and a wall of fetish wear sex gear.
Gary Baseman's "The Door is Always Open"
Gary Baseman is an Angeleno artist born in 1960. Here he is in full Pinkerton regalia with a bevy of oriental beauties and what look like some skinned monkeys.
Baseman started out as an illustrator, finding publication in rags such as The New Yorker, The New York Times and Time. He also created an animated series for Disney called Teacher’s Pet, which ran from 2000–2002. These days his most famous creation is Toby, a Fez-wearing cat. This giant inflatable Toby is installed at the entrance to K11, the Huaihai Lu shopping mall with precisely zero stores I ever visit and an excellent underground art space.
“The Door is Always Open” is arranged in several sections, starting with a journey into an askew simulacrum of an American home, like a demented Ikea showroom. There’s a snowy front yard with sad soft-serve cone sculptures made in fiberglass and 2D trees covered in lights.
Continuing inside, you encounter a living room, dining room, hallway, study, bedroom and so on, all filled with items branded by Baseman. The furniture is embroidered with cartoon characters; family portraits are populated by cutesy demons, etc, etc. You also see his drawings, toys, fashions, videos and more, an overabundance of commodities created in the manic, hyper-productive mode of the Great Satan at the peak of its rampant economic expansion.
There’s something depressing about all this energy expended on developing a diversified product line, what amounts to Disney without the sentiment, the psychopathy of the cute bent just enough to differentiate it from more mainstream brands. It’s naive, ‘naughty’ without being the least bit subversive, and thus perfectly calibrated for contemporary China. This thing must be huge on WeChat. "The Door is Always Open" continues through March 5.
Other exhibitions I’m looking forward to this month include a solo show by new media artist aaajiao at Leo Xu Projects, which opens Friday January 16 from 5-7pm, and painter Mark Bradford’s solo show at the Rockbund Art Museum from Friday January 30.
For a complete list of exhibitions and other art happenings, check our Art Calendar.
Note: All photos provided by the galleries.