[Works by Michael Craig-Martin, on display at Zendai Himalayas Museum]
Robots, maps, and classically-inspired story paintings with monsters battling ghosts: there’s loads of great art on show around town this month. The bad news – most galleries are shutting their doors for Chinese New Year. Bummer.
There are exceptions, though - Art Labor’s new show is up and running throughout the holiday, as is that Gary Baseman show at K11 (10am - 6pm on Feb 18; 11am–8pm on Feb 19; regular hours after that). The holiday’s also a good time to see the Shanghai Biennale at Power Station of Art - the museum is ringing in the Year of the Ram with free entry on February 19 and is open throughout the holiday. Or, for art in the great outdoors, there’s always that cluster of sculptures at Red Town, or else Jing’an Sculpture Park.
Luckily, a lot of galleries are just closing for a few days and not the entire break. Here’s our pick of the best shows around town and a preview of what's coming up.
Teasingly not open during CNY is Robotic Futures at Minsheng Art Museum in Red Town. Housed on the ground floor of the original Huaihai Lu space, it’s actually one of the City Pavilions of the ongoing Shanghai Biennale. And despite its techy scope - 3D printing! Biomimicry! CGI! - it’s actually way more accessible and a whole lot more engaging than the main event itself.
Physical material meets digital technology, all masterminded by some very, very clever human minds. The show starts strongly with the hulking ICD/ ITKE Research Pavilion. Think: winding monochrome glass fibers that are ripe for posting on your WeChat.
But it’s the ‘making of’ films that are perhaps most captivating. The steadfastness of these machines, the horribly human sounding relationship between slave and master robots...Maybe it’s most engrossing for non-engineers, but either way, stirring stuff.
Highlights include Long Distance seeing artist Alex Kiessling live drawing in Vienna as robotic ‘arms’ simultaneously recreated his sketches in London and Berlin. And for anyone about to tie the knot, do seek out Steven Ma’s Xuberance designs: wedding cakes, veils and dresses - stunning.
That reopens on February 25 and runs through February 28. You should go.
Newly-opened and on-show throughout the holidays, group exhibition Bites Back at Art Labor is well worth a look. Works by six artists examine the devaluation of things, be it manual industry in an increasingly digitalized world, new spins on traditional creative practices, or in the case of Mustafa Hulisi, the literal decay of the natural world.
The hands-down highlight of the show is Howie Tsui. The Hong Kong-born Canadian grew up in Nigeria, but it’s arguably his Asian heritage that most influences his work. Super involved and crazy detailed, his works are entire story arcs in brush strokes. His mythical dreamscapes - more often nightmares - are all monsters, deities and ghosts, battling it out across massive scroll-like canvases. Good stuff.
Do seek out Zhou Fan’s incredible pen drawings: dense, dizzying and kind of overwhelming, they’re painstaking exercises in patience and precision. A recent addition to Art Labor’s roster of talents from China, his work addresses the vastness of the universe to man’s relative tininess.
Mark Bradford: Tears of a Tree
Rockbund Art Museum is also closing for a few days this CNY. Bummer. But they reopen on February 21, and if you're still in town then you should go catch Mark Bradford’s solo, Tears of a Tree.
The LA-based artist is a pretty big deal. Here, he’s showing monumental, specially commissioned, Shanghai-specific works. In some ways, it’s a sparse show: comprising just three paintings plus a series of bauble-like sculptures up top, it’s nonetheless not to be missed.
The background: on a recent trip to the city, Bradford picked up a bunch of colonial-era maps of Shanghai. All international settlements and concessions, they divvied the place up according to the political powers of yesteryear. Taking that as a starting point, he translated that ever-evolving urban history and landscape into paper and paint to create a series of 12-meter long works.
Facing each gigantic work is a row of benches. Commanding the same hushed gaze as, say, some monumental Old Masters, they’re a nice way to reconnect with the city. Hidden way up on the sixth floor is a documentary that shows Bradford at work and describes his process and the paintings’ shifting perspectives. It’s fascinating – go see it.
Michael Craig-Martin: NOW
Another heavyweight hitting up the city this month is Irish artist, Michael Craig-Martin, on show at Zendai Himalayas Museum (closed 18 - 22 February). Crisp, linear paintings in rich block color, Craig-Martin focuses exclusively on the day-to-days of now: take-out coffee cups, game controllers, iPhones and the like.
All recent works, they’re to be read as a kind of visual language. No descriptions are required here in English, Chinese or indeed any language: succinct and instantaneous, their meaning is universal. For Craig-Martin, visuals take precedence over words. And that’s the point: immediacy, and a kind of pictorial archive of our times. Where once a telephone was a very specific-shaped contraption comprising handle, receiver and transmitter, for example, now it’s just as obviously a rectangle of plastic and metal, digital screen and buttons.
The show also features a couple of short documentaries, the more engaging of which charts Craig-Martin’s recent sculptural installations in the grounds of the very Downton Abbey-esque Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, UK; as well as a refreshingly contemporary portraiture of English aristocracy.
March and Beyond…
[Work by LUDO, whose show opens March 21 at MD Gallery]
Looking ahead, there’s lots to look forward to. Dates for the diary include March 21 from 4–8pm for the opening of French street artist LUDO’s solo at Gallery Magda Danysz; and March 8 from 6pm–8pm for a solo by Shenyang-born abstract painter Su Dong Ping at Pearl Lam. Elsewhere, Yuz Museum is finally updating its offerings with Myth/ History II, Xu Zhen goes to West Bund, and Ouyang Chun hits up Shanghart.
There you have it – our top picks for right now in Shanghai. For all of that and everything else, check our Art Calendar right here.