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[The List]: Six Art Shows To See Or Skip This Summer

From works by dead contemporary artists at Rockbund to trippy panoramic video retrospectives of Van Gogh's life.
2015-06-09 13:25:02

1. Chen Zhen: Without going to New York and Paris life could be internationalized

Rockbund Art Museum | 20 Huqiu Lu, near Beijing Dong Lu

Runs: May 30–October 7, 2015
Price: Adults: 30rmb, Students: 10rmb

Rockbund Art Museum celebrates its fifth anniversary with a stellar solo by dead Shanghainese contemporary artist Chen Zhen. Born in Shanghai, he lived in Paris from the mid '90s, frequently returning to his home city. On each trip home he saw massive change as unprecedented urban development propelled Shanghai towards the future. These intense transformations inspired a series of installations charting the paradoxes he saw and his own “trans-experience” of living across two cultures. Both led him to conclude that, “Without going to New York and Paris life could be internationalized.”

The second floor gallery is given over to massive installation, Purification Room, a replica apartment fully furnished with the paraphernalia of everyday life -- bicycle, kettle, computer and coats -- completely caked in mud. It looks like a time capsule, a social archeology site, or even those casts of Pompeii residents extracted from the ash. Nostalgia and everyday objects feature throughout. Bureau de Change, for example, is a copy of an old-style Chinese public toilet, with two open troughs, divided by a partition, and open at the bottom and top for embarrassing sounds, and conversation too. Here, the gutters are filled with foreign currency.

The theme continues on the fourth floor, with Daily Incantations: a massive sound installation of 101 old chamber pots, another relic from a particular chapter of Shanghai history set for extinction. Likewise, Social Investigation tracks the city’s dizzying past, present and future transformation through photos and text.

Full of gritty, wry nostalgia -- and minus any rose-tinted wistfulness -- this one is highly recommended.

- Frances Arnold

2.Yona Friedman: Mobile Architecture

Power Station of Art | 200 Huayuangang Lu, near Miaojiang Lu

Runs: Daily until August 16, 2015
Price: 30rmb

Lots to see at PSA right now. Most recently is an overview of Yona Friedman’s theory of Mobile Architecture -- structures that are easy to erect and dismantle; spaces shaped by inhabitants according to their needs; and "infrastructures that are neither determined nor determining.”. It's not that dry. The playful and quirky show blends cartoons, models, collage, text and film for flexible cities that can respond to changes in society. Really quite inspirational -- worth a visit.

Friedman’s theory was radical in the 1950s, and based partly on his own refugee experiences in war-torn Europe, and later during the chaos of the early days of the State of Israel. Succinctly contradicting our own Shanghai skyline, he believes innovation is borne from poverty and shortage, and “vigorous architecture is only possible in poor society.” To that end, you’ve got a replica of one of just two buildings Friedman saw realized in his almost 50-year career: the Museum of Simple Technology, built in Madras in 1982.

Friedman is all about what he calls the Spatial City: a kind of modular, multi-story infrastructure, built like a bridge or platform on well-spaced stilts above the ground. Irregular in size, all units are adaptable, flexible and above all, mobile. To describe his vision, he made a series of structures called Gribouilli, or scribbles, from lengths of tangled, coiled wire - kind of like a messed up slinky.

Alongside this is Street Museum -- a temporary, evolving collection of display cases surrounded by plastic hoops and cable ties. Its artifacts change weekly, all provided by the public. Right now, they include a ukelele, Beijing opera masks, and a baseball cap. To quote Friedman himself, “It is the exhibits that make a museum, not the building.” Amen to that. Previous incarnations of the installation have been more literal -- outside on the street -- but guess PSA got cold feet about that one. The whole space is graffitied with Friedman’s cartoons of stick men, women and dogs discussing his manifesto. Yeah, it’s utopian, but also rather uplifting -- his musings include “It is computers who are wrong/ as they don’t record emotions/ and our emotions are the key to happiness,” and that individuals’ “micro-joys” matter more than wider ones. An architecture show not of buildings, but ideas of freedom -- and the freedom to improvise -- do go see.

- Frances Arnold

3. Geng Yini: God loves whatever/Heidi Voet: 500 Years

BANK Gallery | 1/f, 59 Xianggang Lu near Sichuan Lu

Runs: Daily until July 10, 2015
Price: Free

Two shows on at Bank Gallery these days: Geng Yini’s God Loves Whatever, and Heidi Voet’s 500 Years. The latter sees the Belgian artist turn her attention to the not-so-humble plastic bag. Overlooked thanks to their nominal value and ubiquity, they’ll nonetheless outlive us all, with your average dàizi taking some 500 years to fully decompose. Using a whopping 30,000 plus bags, Voet presents the disposable objects as conduits for the past half millennium of humanity, blurring the historical and exotic with the mundane and quotidian. Tightly woven together like a rug, multicolored bags create flags of countries that no longer exist; and of tribal masks, capes and costumes. All feels very… crafty.

God Loves Whatever is a series of recent paintings and a video by Shenyang-born Geng Yini. The work’s catalyst was the artist’s grandmother, and her muddled if devoted Christian faith. She and a friend also feature in the show’s one film, reading bible passages out of synch. For Geng Yini, Granny’s religion is a paradox: on the one hand it’s all pomp and miracles; on the other, “God loves whatever: be it drunkards, illiterates or the uneducated, grandparents, uncles or aunties, the conceited or the shameful, people with status or those without reputation.” Here they all are, the laymen, earthy and crude on Geng Yini’s huge canvases, surrounded by a miscellany of religious imagery.

- Frances Arnold

4.Ding Yi: What's Left to Appear

Long Museum (West Bund) | 3398 Longteng Avenue, near Fenglin Lu

Runs:Daily until July 26, 2015
Price: Adults: 50rmb, Students: 25rmb; Free for everybody on the first Tuesday of every month

Ding Yi. You’ve seen his abstract paintings before: all crosses and grids on canvas or tartan, they look like city blocks, or communication networks, or maybe even a very colorful hanzi primer. Their sheer saturation lends the paintings a kind of Magic Eye quality -- those stereogram pictures so popular in the '90s that you sort of had to look through to see a dolphin or something. Whilst there are no hidden images -- or at least none that I saw -- What’s Left to Appear is nonetheless dizzying, absorbing and loaded with possibilities.

The hands-down highlight is ten new paint on plywood pieces created not just for the exhibition, but more specifically the space. Each one some five-meters high, together they create an immersive environment in the building’s central "nave" -- no small feat for this monstrous, sparse space. The space is divided into a kind of grid. Within each, paintings are organized by color or size -- a fitting approach for the obsessive crosses and lines. Upstairs is given over to neon pinks and orange, for example, while downstairs is all lime and yellow. Whilst Chinese artists leaning towards massive works to match the proportions of China’s irrepressible wave of new museums is well documented, these don’t feel gratuitously big. They’re more of a dialog between the space and the paintings, one riffing off the other.

A handful of the artist’s early paintings from the mid ‘80s to early ‘90s are a rare treat. Totally different from the impenetrable grids he churns out today, these are more figurative in style: what looks like a back-lit doorway, obscured by -- yep -- crosses. Granted, they were bigger, messier and more randomly arranged back then, but they’re there.

The more you look at Ding Yi’s paintings, the more diversity you see. Yeah, they’re all crosses and grids, but there’s nonetheless variety, be it through tone, size or situation. Their Long Museum setting also plays a large part in how these works are experienced. Just go slow to soak it all up.

- Frances Arnold

5.Liu Bolin: Distance to the Eyes

Gallery Magda Danysz | 188 Linqing Lu, near Yangshupu Lu

Runs: Daily unti June 27, 2015
Price: Free

Superstar artist Liu Bolin is back following his by now shared-to-death Invisible Man series with a bunch of new works on show at Magda Danysz gallery. You’re probably already familiar with his stuff: photos of the artist against various backdrops, painted by an army of assistants to blend into his surroundings. Like this:

New series The Distance to the Eyes is essentially more of the same, with Liu Bolin hidden within pictures lifted from various institutional websites -- wildlife conservationists Sea Shepard, Sophal Pharmaceuticals, Paris art centre Cent Quatre and so on. There are also a handful of sculptural installations of shattered screens.

The idea, the artist states, is to “explore what, in an era of intense virtualization remains real.” So there he is, daubed in paint to match foliage, the Eiffel Tower or hundreds of severed shark fins, the images reinserted into giant mock-ups of its respective website. A crucial difference between these and earlier works is that the artist is holding a lamp, “a light [he tries] to shed on reality.” I get it: the digital age subjects us to myriad images whose veracity and ethics are difficult to determine. But calling himself a “hacker” and “whistleblower”? Perhaps an explanation of the sites’ selection process would go some way to understanding, but none are forthcoming. Do go to marvel at the technical skills of Liu Bolin and his team… just don’t expect much else.

- Frances Arnold

6.Van Gogh Alive

388 Huangpi Nan Lu, near Heping Lu

Runs: Daily until August 30, 2015
Price: Weekdays 110rmb, Weekends: 130rmb; cheaper if you scan a QR code

Turns out Van Gogh liked Cadillacs, Perrier, Pokemon, Big Hero 6, and Martell. That's half of the message at this video installation retrospective of the Dutchman's life and works. Vivid, trippy production and a nice ride through Vincent's wild life, but everything else here reeks of vampire consumerism, as big brands leach off a man who only sold one painting in his life.

Some rather crude ticket boys sell 110rmb tickets (130rmb on weekends), then we walk through a metal detector and past vending machines with 268rmb Van Gogh Bears, a long hall of Cadiallic SUVS, then down a science fair-ish hall with a bit of Van Gogh history, then into a huge dark hall -- the same as the recent Shanghai Fashion week -- where projections pass around about twenty walls, each at least five meters high. Cold AC blasts. Hundreds of paintings, letters, and photographs whirl around while a minimal classical soundtrack plays subtley. Quotes appear on the walls. Crowds of kids huddle around the video screen on the floor, like a giant version of that fishing game in the arcades here. The music intensifies as Vincent descends further into madness. Crows flap around 360 degrees...

The video sesh lasts about thirty minutes. And it's worth watching on repeat, but there is no restroom. Despite the 110rmb ticket and all that brand sponsorship, anyone who needs relief can't get back in the exhibit. Those ticket boys in cheap black suits don't care either. "Mei banfa. shi women de guiding". Right. Exit into the gift shop. Tacky girls in mismatched stockings bark on cell phones, some hawking Van Gogh swim trunks, Van Gogh pillows, Van Gogh lifestyle. Is this better than no Van Gogh exhibit? Hard to say. Nice video though.

- Raul Bernardi


For dozens more ongoing art exhibitions, check out our Art Calendar

All photos by Brandon McGhee and Rhiannon Florence / SmartShanghai