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2014: Best And Worst Shanghai Art

The best and worst exhibitions of 2014, from all nine million Shanghai museums. Inflatable Audis, cancer babies, and light-up dental grilles.
2014-12-16 13:45:09
After 365 days of air kisses and furtively touching the works, here it is. The definitive list of the best and worst art of the year. Note that these are all individual works or solo exhibitions shown in Shanghai in 2014, but the art wasn't necessarily created here or during this year. We'll start with the best then get into the worst...


January 1 – Ma Qiusha in “Degeneration” @ OCAT Shanghai

Ma Qiusha, who shows in Shanghai far too rarely, smartly fucked with ideas about gender, youth and beauty in this young artists group show. She ate cosmetics, "urinated" milk, and filmed young women in ice skates as they stomped on tomatoes, spattering their white stockings in blood-like juices.

January 11 — “Michael Wolf: The Real Toy Story” @ K11

These photographs of Chinese toy makers embedded in a wall composed of tens of thousands of toys was a perfect installation, visually captivating and socially relevant. It was a great way for kids to better understand their complicity in the alienation of the proletariat. [Hunger Games Salute!]

March 13 — Ying Yefu @ Art Labor

Ying is way out there, choosing totally unique subject matter while creating technically impressive illustrations in traditional media. I want to open up his brain with a kung fu sword to see what’s going on in there.

March 15 — Rania Ho’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” @ BANK

People do some strange things to compensate for the stresses of life in China: Taobao therapy, fusilli bacon abuse at Wagas, white collar blood sports and lung rehabilitation trips to Australia, to name a few. Rania Ho should receive a Friendship Award for having this inflatable Audi A6 manufactured to factory specs. Seeing adults and children beat the shit out of a goon mobile with blow-up mallets was positively cathartic. Runner up for best car was Ugo Rondinone’s rainbow Rolls Royce at the Rockbund Art Museum. Yes, it’s an obvious corporate coercion, but it’s so damn beautiful, like a gay Autobot.

April 12 — Lu Yang’s “Kimo Kawa Cancer Baby” @ Ren Space

The creator of Uterus Man keeps getting better and better. Lu Yang’s 3D-printed kawaii cancer cells absolutely nailed the oblique power of cuteness, feigning innocence and vulnerability to get what you want. It’s something you see in those contact lenses that seem to dilate the pupil and selfies showing practiced expressions of total vacuity. Lu’s mastery of pixel art, flash animation, 3D modeling and more is, frankly, scary.

July 19 — Chen Tianzhuo’s “Picnic Paradi$e Bitch” @ BANK

Ripped up meat, simulated sex, drool, light-up dental grilles — what does it all mean? Not much, but it’s creating space for all kinds of expression that you just don’t see in China.

August 8 — Cai Guo-Qiang’s “The Ninth Wave” @ Power Station of Art

The title work for this show was pretty cool, a boat full of ersatz dying animals, but it could never have competed with the real dead pigs that floated down the Huangpu. Better was the daytime fireworks for the launch of the exhibition, city-sized graffiti in clouds of colored smoke.

August 23 — Basement 6 Collective’s “Shanghainati Games” @ Basement 6

What kind of sociopath decides to attack innocent Cincinnati park goers with virtual water bombs at 8am their time? The best kind. Basement 6 also had Lu Yang and Chen Tianzhuo host an event in their space, “Cu mõi ngày”, which evidently just saw them serve up bowls of pho. A byproduct of that event is this little exchange which makes me embarrassed of everything I’ve ever written.

B6C: If you have a chance to choose a different career, what would you like to do?

Lu: I want to work in a funeral home or sell street food.

November 13 — Xu Zhen’s Underpants @ Pimo

Tighty whities printed with the characters for fur 皮毛 were given away at the opening of this pop-up art store opened by Xu Zhen in a weird and perfect gesture. Almost as good were the red velvet and cream-cheese-icing cupcakes, also served at the opening, finally satisfying the desire to eat Xu Zhen’s “Under Heaven” series, created with cake decorating nozzles, and dessert-like paintings by Zhu Jinshi. If you’ve got them, hold onto them. Those things are going to be worth millions.


January 11 — Bharti Kher’s “Misdemeanors” @ Rockbund Art Museum

There were some pretty good works in this show, self-spinning globes, antlered deities, and bindi migration route maps. But this baboon-faced woman? There’s a reason for the web series You Suck at Photoshop.

March 8 — “Monet: Master of Impressionism” @ K11

My first cat’s name was Claude, so this isn’t easy for me to say, but yeesh, this guy. What a hack. Monet’s technique hasn’t evolved since his death in 1926. Despite being enormously popular, thoughtfully presented, and introduced by well-versed volunteers, his show at K11 was cynical stuff. Not that surprising, I guess, from a man whose name is presumably French for "money".

May 9 — Yang Fudong’s “New Women” @ ShanghART H-Space

Naked women languor on large screens surrounded by heavy frames in this five channel video by one of Shanghai’s heavyweight artists. The title is taken from a 1935 film that sees the female lead, played by Ruan Jianyu, suffer a litany of abuses. Ruan killed herself soon after the film’s release, a victim of social and media harassment. This shit is still going on, with Tang Wei being blacklisted for a time after her performance in Lust, Caution. Yang may have been attempting to redeem the female nude with “New Women”, but he wound up rendering his subjects as pretty but inert, without agency.

May 17 — Adel Abdessemed’s “Telle mere tel fils” @ YUZ Museum

Xu Bing’s tiger pelt made of cigarettes is amazing, but two planes canoodling? Get a room! Their midsections look like noodles too.

September 22 — Vik Muniz’s “Pictures of Anything” @ West Bund Long Museum

British sculptor Tony Cragg has lamented how contemporary artists resort to repeating old forms in new media, recreating “Michelangelo’s David in semolina”. Vik Muniz is basically the semolina guy, remaking the Mona Lisa out of peanut butter and jelly and Elizabeth Taylor out of chili powder.

September 28 — “1,199 People” @ Long Museum

There are some great paintings in the West Bund Long Museum, including works by Mao Yan and Chen Fei, but it’s generally pretty lame. Even worse was Xu Zhen’s attempt to freshen things up with an alternative curation for “1,199 People”, the paintings displayed in stacks of four climbing the senselessly high walls, which would’ve made perfect sense if only they’d provided audiences with ropes and harnesses.


And that's it. A partially comprehensive, not especially authoritative summary of some things people got away with in defiance of the miasma of PM2.5 meaninglessness we live and breathe. Back at it again in the two zero one five.

For more of our year-end content, check out:

2014: Best And Worst Music/Events
2014: China's Best Albums
2014: Shanghai's Favorite Eats And Drinks
2014: Best New Restaurants
2014: Best User Review Quotes
2014: Best Flyers
2014: Worst Flyers
2014: The F&B Memorial Reel