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2015: Best & Worst Art

Shanghai's best and worst artworks and exhibitions of 2015, this year featuring ceramic sex, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Roombas.
Last updated: 2015-12-22
Art exhibitions are the great plasterboard lungs of the city -- opening, closing, opening, closing -- inhaling the great semantic smog of political, commercial and religious pacification and dredging up some choice morsels of mucus to spit back at the world.

Well, that’s what the good ones do anyway. We’ll start with the best and move on to the worst.


March 29 — Kevin B. Lee’s Transformers the Pre-make @ BANK Gallery

The streets of Detroit are done up like People’s Square for the fourth Transformers movie thanks to tax breaks that keep Michael Bay coming back to the motor city even as the American automotive industry gets the fuck out of Dodge. Kevin B. Lee shares this and a host of other uncanny moments using the wealth of footage available on YouTube, going deep into the offshoring of not just production but consumption and the deleterious effects it’s having on Hollywood movie making. Just thinking about how good this is makes my truck nuts tingle.

April 18 — Bukakemono Inc's SPORTZ at Basement 6

This 21st century pong machine, complete with a custom built four-player controller, deviant sex sound effects and a ’roided up Arnold Schwarzenegger was introduced at the relaunch of Basement 6, now next to Uptown Records on Pingwu Lu. Testament to the venue’s eclecticism and edge, at the same show, Dai Jianyong exhibited pictures of himself making a “chrysanthemum face” (chrysanthemum is slang for sphincter in Chinese), which he ’shopped onto a particular Party authority figure. Dai later found himself in no small amount of trouble for sharing similar images online.

June 14 — Thomas Sauvin and Lei Lei’s Silver Mine Supercut @ OCAT Shanghai

Thomas Sauvin has rescued over half a million 35mm film negatives since first discovering them at a Beijing recycling plant in 2009. He’s gradually been developing them and publishing scans to a tremendous Instagram Feed, which was featured on the New Yorker last year. Sauvin has described the project as an exploration of Chinese vernacular photography, which sounds great but remains a bit abstract until you see the stupendous animation, created by Lei Lei, that showed at OCAT Shanghai’s “Crossovers” show. The supercut of thousands of images depicts the scenes, subjects and gestures that constitute that vernacular, including a surprising number of synonyms for "massive fuck-off concrete monster sculpture."

Here's just a small sample of the final work, from The Guardian.

August 9 — Li Ming’s How to Create Image: I Am @ Antenna Space

Li applied the same magnetic ink police use to collect fingerprints to iPhone screen protectors in this work, capturing the gestures people make as they use different apps. The result is beautifully gestural swipes and pinches with roots in Chinese ink painting.

August 31 — Geng Xue’s Mr. Sea @ Pearl Lam Gallery

Based on a story by Qing Dynasty writer Pu Songling, Geng Xue created this wonderful stop motion animation using characters and scenery made almost entirely from ceramics. Awe at the amount of labor involved lasts only so long before the captivating storytelling takes over. In one scene, two blue-nippled lovers, unable to squeeze flesh, instead rap on one another’s ceramic skin, making it sing.

September 25 — 15 Rooms @ Long Museum West Bund

The Long Museum had two shows in the ‘Worst’ section of last year’s list but the museum stepped up tremendously in 2015 with this showcase of top international performance including Yoko Ono’s provocative invitation to “touch each other” in a blackened room (which presumably worked better when the piece was first created, before the advent of cellphone torches) and Cao Fei’s rock’n’roll trapeze -- girls on swings kicking wall mounted drums.

Two other Long shows belong on this list, though I’ve crammed them in here for economy of words: “Xu Zhen Solo Show” for its instantly iconic “European Thousand-Hand Classical Sculpture”; and Ding Yi’s “What’s Left to Appear”, including ten new five meter tall abstracts that pushed his practice to new heights, both literally and figuratively.

Until February 21 2016 — Miao Ying’s Holding a Kitchen Knife Cut Internet Cable, a Road With Lightning Sparks, at OCAT Shanghai

The same way Thomas Sauvin is exploring the vernacular of retro Chinese photographs, Miao Ying is looking at a vernacular that exists online. In this installation she presents goofy, lyrical Chinglish phrases such as “Flowers all fallen, birds far gone” and “When cigarettes fall in love with matches, the cigarettes get burned” that are adopted as online usernames — the Chinese equivalent of “slutangel69” in the West. These are rendered in kitsch animated fonts popular with Taobao stores and displayed in front of ‘fail to load’ notices about web pages blocked in China. Follow everything she does here.


Van Gogh Alive @ Xintiandi

Interest in Van Gogh far exceeds the paintings available for exhibition, and unlike Dali or Rodin, you can’t just cast another five million bronzes to placate naifs in developing markets. In this multimedia extravaganza, hosted between Shanghai Fashion Weeks in Xintiandi’s Taiping Park, Van Gogh’s work was recreated virtually with projectors, flattening out the Dutch depressive’s impressive impasto. This show is the artistic equivalent of the Tupac hologram at Coachella 2012 -- brilliant in its margin maximization but depressing, like the announcement that dead Whitney Houston will appear live in concert next year.

October 17 — Almost everything in No Longer, Not Yet @ Minsheng Art Museum

It was left to Cao Fei and her Roomba-riding chickens to clean up all the spooge left behind by the gigantic Gucci circle jerk that was “No Longer, Not Yet”. Holy shit that show was soul-crushing: luxury accessories, fashion photography and a knockoff of Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele’s favorite painting, “The Boy in Red”, which he says he likes because the boy “looks androgynous”. Cool story, bro. Cao Fei’s work was by far the highlight: as well as chooks riding Roombas at the museum (on carpet spawned from a F/W 2015 Gucci print and the testes of Satan), video showed the droids sweeping their way across construction sites, cleaning up after the clearing out that China too often mistakes for progress.

Until December 31 — “Rain Room” @ the Yuz Museum

It’s the humidity that gets you.

Until January 3, 2016 — Hugo Boss Asia Art Prize Exhibition @ RAM

It’s a little harsh to put this on the worst list, but in an already quiet year for RAM, the 2015 Hugo Boss Asia Art Prize exhibition was underwhelming, especially compared with the brilliant inaugural edition in 2013. Filipino artist Maria Taniguchi won the 300,000rmb prize for her somber black brick canvases, a mindful mapping of each day’s practice that’s enviable but alienating in a rapidly changing, increasingly unequal economy where everyone is distracted and hard work alone gets you nowhere.

Until January 10, 2016 — “Crazy Dali” @ Bund 18

Five million bronze replicas to placate naifs in developing markets. It’s really not that crazy.

And, we’re out!


This article is part of our 2015 In Rewind series. Check out the rest:

Shanghai's Favorite Eats & Drinks (Coming Soon)
Best Flyers
Worst Flyers
Best & Worst Shows
Shanghai's Best & Worst Art
China's Best Albums
China's Worst Music