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Interview: Martin Kemble
Martin Kemble, a native of Vancouver, Canada, opened Art Labor nearly four years ago, and in early August, his second gallery, Art Labor 2.0, opened at 570 Yongjia Lu.
By Aug 18, 2010 Arts

Martin Kemble, a native of Vancouver, Canada, opened Art Labor nearly four years ago, and in early August, his second gallery, Art Labor 2.0, opened at 570 Yongjia Lu. The inaugural exhibition is called 2nd Impressions and runs until August 25. Kemble gave us a tour of 2.0 and shared his thoughts on some of the artists featured in this and upcoming exhibitions.


How does Art Labor 2.0 differ from your original gallery?

Kemble: The most readily apparent difference is its size. We have around 300 square meters in this new space, which allows us more flexibility -- it's much larger than the area we were working with before, which I'd say is about 85 square meters. But even though we've expanded here, the first gallery (36 Yongjia Lu) still figures in our plans. We're re-opening it in September.

In terms of content, I think of the first gallery as being a slightly more experimental site. In September, Monika Lin will have a solo show there. It'll be an installation piece called "Medusa". These jellyfish shapes will completely fill the place and we're going to leave the lights on all night so passerbys can enjoy it. It's a thank you to Shanghai. Without the city's support at Art Labor, we wouldn't have been able to get 2.0 off the ground.

What are your chief criteria when deciding which artists you will exhibit at either space?

Kemble: The works that appeal most to me are those that exude a sense of joy -- in creation, in living, whatever it may be. And I think you can see that in what we have around here [at Art Labor 2.0]. Take a look at Lu Xinjian's paintings. He begins with pictures of historical cities taken from Google Earth and then distills the distinctive features into these boldly colored, linear images. There's some of Mondrian in these, but they're clearly recognizable as Lu’s. When you see the whole series -- Tokyo, Rome, Shanghai -- all beside each other, and the joy he takes in the process becomes evident.

Or look at this Per Adolfsen piece, which is called "Day of the Falling Planets". The vitality in his work stuns me. He's quite simply one of the best painters I've encountered.

How would you describe the Art Labor galleries’ role in Shanghai's art scene?

Kemble: We look for fresh artwork. I'm not saying we're the vanguard of the scene, but we try to bring in artists who aren't obvious and introduce them onto the stage here. It gets tiring to see "contemporary Chinese art" represented by a few well-marketed, well branded artists.

We also concentrate on exposing some incredible female artists who haven't received the attention they warrant. Davida Kidd does these amazing pop surrealist pieces.

And then I've mentioned Monika Lin, who also had a solo show with us last year. Or take Lu Yang -- she's just graduating from the Chinese Academy of Art in Hangzhou. I think she's going to be the next big thing. She's incredibly talented, media-saavy, has great communication skills, and knows how to play the game. She’s going to be huge, and we're working to get her out there.

What is the connection between these artists and Shanghai or China?

Kemble: We've always made a point to exhibit artists from around the world. While we do show many Chinese artists, we are not exclusively focused on the Chinese art scene. Having said this, most of our foreign artists do have connections to China. At one point in our existence, we were thinking of expanding our range and showing stuff that was hot in for instance the Lower East Side. But ultimately, there wasn't much of a reason to bring many of those artists over. Often they had already received more than enough attention, and they weren't engaged with this culture -- there was no real sense of belonging. But if you look at the background of say Vladimir Dubko, who does these incredible digital illustrations, he's worked in Hong Kong for years. Or Amelia Kallman, who did "Showgirl in Exile 3" -- she started the Chinatown Cabaret in Hongkou with her husband.

What's next for your galleries?

Kemble: We have a solo exhibition of Ying Yefu's work opening August 28. He offered "Earthquake 1" for 2nd Impressions, so you can get some sense of his style from that. It's gongbi (ink pen work) on rice paper, and you can see his mastery of the medium in the pieces we'll have on display.

I think his exhibition will do extremely well. We've already had a lot of interest from buyers. That might be because his work invites a bit of controversy -- for instance, a painting we just sold depicts a young woman wringing out a washcloth that flows from her stomach. It appears that she's completely alone, left to struggle with a decision about an abortion. But as a work that is concerned with a contentious social issue, it will maintain interest and value over time. Those are the works that are attractive to collectors.

As I mentioned, we'll have Monika Lin's "Medusa" at our original space September 4 until October 10. And here at 2.0 we'll have a solo show by Lu Xinjian from September 25 until October 21. Then we're finalizing dates for Lu Yang's exhibition, but it should be here October 23 - November 18.


"2nd Impressions" and runs until August 25 at Art Labor 2.0. Event details here.
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