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Six Art Shows to See Right Now

Language versus art, Mr. Bean versus Roadrunner, and a Colombian Maestro in town: shows to not skip this spring.
Last updated: 2016-01-29

Botero in China @ China Art Palace


Runs: January 21–May 8, 2016
Price: Free

Botero: He’s reportedly the most exhibited contemporary artist in the world, and certainly one of the most prolific. Botero: Colombia’s best-known cultural export and the seemingly age-defying octogenarian who was in Shanghai last week to grandly open the latest leg of touring exhibition, Botero in China. Botero: Go see his thing. Currently on show at the gargantuan China Art Palace -- that sprawling museum inside the former national Expo pavilion -- it features 84 paintings, 44 drawings and in the outside plaza, nine sculptures.

One of those instantly recognizable artists thanks to his super distinctive style, Botero oozes mass-market appeal. Best known for his portraits and still lifes, he exaggerates volumes and proportions to the point of caricature. That’s not to say that his stout men, women, creatures and fruits are necessarily funny. Neither are they jolly, nor can their chubbiness be sexily described as voluptuous. Actually, they’re pretty dour-looking -- political figures or scenes of daily life.

The show’s divvied up into seven sections: 'Everyday Life in Latin America,' 'Religion,' 'Still Life,' 'The Circus,' 'The Bullfight' and those outdoor sculptures, all of which are pretty self-explanatory. Then there’s 'Evoking Traditions' -- that’s Botero recreating characters from the paintings of various Old Masters -- think Velasquez’s Infanta Margarita Teresa, or Van Eyck’s Arnolfinis -- in his signature style.

For anyone who’s not crazy about the Colombian’s flat, formulaic approach, a series of altogether subtler drawings on paper and canvas are a highlight of what’s on show here. Heck, even if it’s not your bag, it’s totally free, beautifully presented and housed inside what might be Shanghai’s most mind-bogglingly diverse art museum. You should probably go.


Heman Chong: Ifs, Ands or Buts @ Rockbund Art Museum


Runs: January 23–May 3, 2016
Price: 30rmb

Rockbund Art Museum is going all conceptual for its 2016 debut, courtesy of Singaporean artist Heman Chong’s first ever solo in mainland China. The show comprises seven newly commissioned works made especially for the venue, all broadly exploring the space between text, images, and understanding.

Things start in thought-provoking fashion with ground floor’s Legal Bookshop which takes over and replaces the museum’s gift store. The project saw Chong commission a lawyer to interpret the theme of law however he saw fit and procure a list of titles accordingly. The results are wonderfully diverse: think John Grisham’s crime thrillers, several Dungeons & Dragons Players’ Handbooks and Darwin’s Origin of Species, all alongside more conservative interpretations of ‘legal’ and ‘law.’ Visitors are encouraged to browse, and all books are for sale.

Heady conceptualist art this may be, but it’s also peppered with wholly relatable reference points. For example, booming second-floor installation Re-Re-Re-Run: a dual-channel set-up featuring Mr. Bean versus Road Runner cartoons. A monstrously massive take on those public screens in taxis, subway trains and just about everywhere else, despite the slapstick content, it’s frantic, intimidating and just so loud. Dropping anvils on Wile.E.Coyote’s head has never seemed less funny.

Do seek out The Mysterious Island up on the third floor. Named after the Jules Verne novel, it’s an apparent utopia of peach blossom trees set against a backdrop evocative of blue-screens used in film production. Fittingly, all is not as it seems: the flowery trees are all shoddy plastic plants fixed like Frankenstein’s monster. Good stuff.


The Ballad of Generation Y @ OCAT


Runs: December 6, 2015–February 22, 2016
Price: Free

Arguably the city’s best for new media, OCAT’s ongoing The Ballad of Generation Y is definitely worth a look-see. Eight works by a generation of Chinese ‘digital natives’ explore precisely the culture clashes of high/low, fantasy/reality, capitalist/creative realized on our internet of everything from kitsch to despair, aspiration to pretension - and everything between.

Miao Ying is there, of course: poster girl for the internet artist wave, her Holding a Kitchen Knife to Cut Internet Cable includes LAN Love Poem.gif: think China-blocked sites - Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, et al - accompanied by poems whose translations render them reminiscent of ancient wisdom. When cigarettes fall in love with matches, cigarettes get burned, for example. Of Facebook, there’s To be missed is another kind of beauty. A kind of visual, aural assault, you literally can’t miss it.

Elsewhere, Liu Xin’s Can You Tear For Me sees the artist chemically replicate her own tears, as well as pay online participants USD 0.25 for a selfie of them crying. The resulting image series spans everything from clearly forced to maybe, possibly, genuinely distressed. All said, it’s surprisingly moving.

Finally, it’s hard not to love Lin Ke’s intergalactic installation, Spacecraft: an imagined journey across the planet and beyond, taken from comfort of his computer screen. Think constellation-like dot-to-dot drawings of stars, turned into a Photoshop layer that then traverses a world of landscapes, the artist’s own reflection clearly visible in films of his digital odyssey.


Community of Celibates @ Shanghai Gallery of Art


Runs: January 23–March 16, 2016
Price: Free

Group exhibition Community of Celibates opened at Bund-side Shanghai Gallery of Art last weekend. Exploring issues of sex, the body and love, those themes shine through stronger in certain works over others. All young artists, the overall tone feels very futuristic, like a dossier of intimacy, self and reproduction for aliens, maybe. Take Liu Chuang’s short film, BBR1: describing the self-propagation of poplar and willow trees within the urban landscape, it combines found footage with scientific theory against a snowfall of catkins to gorgeous effect.

Other works allude to physicality and presence - Miao Ying’s installation #mememe satirizes the cult of the selfie via selfie sticks and iPhones to frankly depressing ends. Elsewhere, Liu Yujia’s The Ray sees a moment of intimacy between strangers or lovers debase into a clinical observation that though not without beauty, is frightening in its ultimately apparently inhuman rationale.

Star of the show, though, is Chen Tianzhuo, not least for his pixel-like, LEGO-esque Self Portrait in ceramic tiles. A film of performance piece ADAHA 2 feels like a fittingly weird opera or musical spanning all kinds of carnal absurdity. Think phallic noses, scantily-clad cheerleaders and obscenities aplenty. Do watch.

Go in the next few days and you might just catch Yang Jian putting the finishing touches to her work, Performative Writing. Taking Duchamp’s Fountain as a starting point, it extrapolates the phonetic possibilities in Chinese hanzi for urinoir (urinal in French, that is) in gold and silver marker pen on the gallery floor.


Zheng Haozhong: Lee Cha @ BANK Gallery


Runs: January 16–March 12, 2016
Price: Free

Over at BANK Gallery through 12 March is a solo by Shandong-based Zheng Haozhong. Definitely one to watch, the young artist picked up the 2014 John Moores Painting Prize and is poised to open a UK show later this year. Here, he’s showing glimpses into the life and times of regular alias, Lee Cha.

It’s unclear whether Lee actually exists, or whether he’s an alter ego of Zheng Haozhong himself. From the snapshots on show here, we can glean that he’s a painter, he lives in the countryside, and often has friends round to his studio. Oh, and he possibly has a cat. The paintings themselves play out like a storyboard: certain snippets are rich in detail, others are sparse. Likewise, the canvases themselves span thick daubs of paint, experimental sketches and lines, and heavily watered down washes. You can almost see not just Zheng Haozhong’s work process (or is it Lee Cha’s?), but also his thought process.

Playing on that deliberate confusion of reality versus fiction, certain elements of the paintings are right there in the gallery space. There’s a TV, for example, positioned directly in the line of vision of a canvas-bound character lounging on a sofa. Mats strewn across the floor could be the same as those in a series of paintings called Wanderer.

A self-reflective little show in all respects, it’s like observing the life of an artist through an unreliable mirror. Go see.


Linguistic Pavilion @ Minsheng Art Museum


Runs: January 9–March 13, 2016
Price: 20rmb

If your Chinese hanzi are up to scratch, or even if they’re not, Linguistic Pavilion over at Minsheng Art Museum in Redtown is well worth a look-see. The show sees 13 artists from China and one from Iceland explore the interplay between language and art. That includes works examining the possibilities, failings and quirks of symbols and words to embody meaning. An obvious choice for a show of this kind thanks to his seminal Book for the Ground series, Xu Bing does exactly that with video work Character of Characters.

Totally mesmeric on a scroll-like screen, it charts the evolution from pictograms to Chinese characters, traditional to simplified, historical to contemporary and rural to urban, culminating in the dominant symbols of today: brand logos.

Artists like Qui Zhijie, meanwhile, look at the social, cultural and political connotations of language and words in Revolutionary Slogans of the Successive Dynasties. Each one hand-printed, the works on paper also nod to the historical production of mass communication, and the implications of its development over time.

Do linger over Lu Pingyuan’s series of strange short stories: generally magical realist in style and oftentimes pretty sinister, the sparse little tales serve to challenge assumptions of literature versus art. Whether it’s a cautionary tale of the Artist and the Chameleon, Curious Allen, or the downright chilling One-Eyed Lake, the works revel in the invisible space between Lu Pingyuan’s imagination and that of the viewer. On show through mid-March, it’s definitely worth a visit.