“Turning Point: Contemporary Art In China Since 2000” at Shanghai Minsheng Art Museum

More than 50 Chinese artists review 16 years of China’s art history.

Launched at Shanghai Minsheng Art Museum on 24 July 2016, the exhibition explores the output of China’s art scene in the new millennium. Art Radar has a look at some highlights in the show.

Cao Fei, 'Whose Utopia', 2006, (video still) single channel video, 20m:00s. Image courtesy the artist and Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai.

Cao Fei, ‘Whose Utopia’, 2006, (video still) single channel video, 20m:00s. Image courtesy the artist and Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai.

When the Minsheng Art Museum opened in Shanghai in April 2010, the first exhibition was a 30-year survey of Chinese paintings from 1979 to 2009. In common with that inaugural show the current exhibition “Turning Point: Contemporary Art In China Since 2000”, running until 4 September 2016, presents an account, through the work of more than 50 Chinese artists, of “the momentum of the time”. But this is neither a survey nor a sequential chronology. Professor Yi Ying, a renowned art historian and critic, and currently professor and doctoral tutor of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, organised (or curated) the show as ‘Academic Moderator’, as the Museum calls his role.

He Xiangyu, 'Everything We Create is Not Ourselves 90-1', 2016, pencil, acid-free oil-based marker, watercolour, Japanese ink on paper, 20 x 25 cm x 90. Image courtesy the artist and Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai.

He Xiangyu, ‘Everything We Create is Not Ourselves 90-1’, 2016, pencil, acid-free oil-based marker, watercolour, Japanese ink on paper, 20 x 25 cm x 90. Image courtesy the artist and Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai.

The exhibition leaflet asserts that the show will offer an “alternative perspective to review, reinterpret and reflect upon the development of Chinese contemporary art […]”. Indeed the majority of works date from the last few years, so they present the outcome of the period rather than its passing vacillations.

Liu Wei, 'Jungle No.4', 2012, canvas, wood, 165 x 240 x 30 cm. Image courtesy Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai.

Liu Wei, ‘Jungle No.4’, 2012, canvas, wood, 165 x 240 x 30 cm. Image courtesy Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai.

"Turning Point: Contemporary Art In China Since 2000", 24 July - 4 September 2016, Shanghai Minsheng Art Museum, exhibition installation view. Foreground left, Tan Tian, 'Feel Better after Throw up No.4', 2013, and background, Zhang Ding, 'Enter the Dragon', 2015. Photo: Andrew Stooke.

“Turning Point: Contemporary Art In China Since 2000”, 24 July – 4 September 2016, Shanghai Minsheng Art Museum, exhibition installation view. Foreground left, Tan Tian, ‘Feel Better after Throw up No.4’, 2013, and background, Zhang Ding, ‘Enter the Dragon’, 2015. Photo: Andrew Stooke.

Minsheng Art Museum is an ideal situation to experience this work. The Museum has not absolutely embraced a pristine white cube environment, and this prevents the work from feeling historical. The space is dotted with small faults, in the form of worn and encrusted surfaces; some recording the regime of making the space over to new exhibitions, and others, old protrusions remaining from the galleries conversion from previous industrial use, part of the Shanghai No. 10 Steel factory complex. The environment gives the works, even those using the latest digital media, a humane quality.

"Turning Point: Contemporary Art In China Since 2000", 24 July - 4 September 2016, Shanghai Minsheng Art Museum, exhibition installation view. Foreground left, Wu Chao, 'Consciousness × Mo—«Awakening Vegetative Patiients via Artistic Audio-visual Stimulation Project»', 2014-16, and background right, Yang Jian, 'Poem Published as a Spam Message', 2014. Photo: Andrew Stooke.

“Turning Point: Contemporary Art In China Since 2000”, 24 July – 4 September 2016, Shanghai Minsheng Art Museum, exhibition installation view. Foreground left, Wu Chao, ‘Consciousness × Mo—«Awakening Vegetative Patiients via Artistic Audio-visual Stimulation Project»’, 2014-16, and background right, Yang Jian, ‘Poem Published as a Spam Message’, 2014. Photo: Andrew Stooke.

XuZhen (Produced by MadeIn Company), '"Victory" Artworks' set, 2016, installation, 300 x 400 x 96 cm. Image courtesy Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai.

XuZhen (Produced by MadeIn Company), ‘”Victory” Artworks’ set, 2016, installation, 300 x 400 x 96 cm. Image courtesy Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai.

Describing the show for Frieze Gary Zhexi Zhang singles out for mention Xu Zhen’s large assemblage entitled “Victory” Artworks Set (2016). He describes it as:

a mockingly large gift box furnished with an augmented Classical statue, a series of art-historical fitness exercises, and stylish set of swerving PVC tubes painted with vibrant marble gradients.

Indeed it is a brazen and grandiloquent introduction to the show, but it stands aloof from the predominant feel of most works. These eschew the bravura that may be associated with the art from the closing two decades of the 20th century – typified by the sculpture of American artist Jeff Koons on show now at fellow 1980s British artist Damien Hirst’s own art space Newport Street Gallery in London.

Leng Guangmin, 'Cutting an Ellipse', 2016. Photo: Andrew Stooke.

Leng Guangmin, ‘Cutting an Ellipse’, 2016. Photo: Andrew Stooke.

"Turning Point: Contemporary Art In China Since 2000", 24 July - 4 September 2016, Shanghai Mingsheng Art Museum, exhibition installation view. Image courtesy Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai.

“Turning Point: Contemporary Art In China Since 2000”, 24 July – 4 September 2016, Shanghai Mingsheng Art Museum, exhibition installation view. Image courtesy Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai.

Wu Chao, 'Consciousness × Mo—«Awakening Vegetative Patiients via Artistic Audio-visual Stimulation Project»', 2014-16, installation view, mixed media, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai.

Wu Chao, ‘Consciousness × Mo—«Awakening Vegetative Patiients via Artistic Audio-visual Stimulation Project»’, 2014-16, installation view, mixed media, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai.

More typical of the prevailing spirit of the show is Chen Wei’s malfunctioning LED sign entitled Roadside Malevich (2016). Located equidistant from both the entrance and exit of the exhibition, the attention-grabbing device awaits repair. Meanwhile its display flickers with incoherent shapes, inadvertently reminiscent of pioneering revolutionary abstraction. The work shows the dereliction of an everyday street sign, once optimistically installed and now flashing the image of a forgone ideology. The sign provokes an uneasy sense that past fallibilities could be connected to future states.

Cheng Ran, 'Simply Wild', 2014, Super 8mm film transferred to digital video with sound, 6m:53s. Image courtesy the artist and Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai.

Cheng Ran, ‘Simply Wild’, 2014, Super 8mm film transferred to digital video with sound, 6m:53s. Image courtesy the artist and Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai.

Li Songsong, 'Map of a Pig's Lymphatic System', 2012, oil on canvas, 120 x 120 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai.

Li Songsong, ‘Map of a Pig’s Lymphatic System’, 2012, oil on canvas, 120 x 120 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai.

The last 16 years have been a comparatively settled period in Chinese history relative to most 16-year periods in the 20th century. These artists have enjoyed some stability but also opportunity tainted with compromise. The spatial arrangement of the show groups the art works in configurations that build a compelling but open-ended account of the contemporary, not one, but many ‘Turning Points’.

Gao Lei, 'L—01, 2013, IKEA tables, faucet, fur collar, socket, police baton, 60 x 128 cm x 2 (diptych). Image courtesy Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai.

Gao Lei, ‘L—01, 2013, IKEA tables, faucet, fur collar, socket, police baton, 60 x 128 cm x 2 (diptych). Image courtesy Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai.

"Turning Point: Contemporary Art In China Since 2000", 24 July - 4 September 2016, Shanghai Minsheng Art Museum, exhibition installation view. Foreground left, Yan Bing, 'Love', 2016; background right, Yang Mushi, 'Eroding', 2016; centre left to right, Tang Dixin, 'Torment', 2014 and 'Confinement', 2014. Photo: Andrew Stooke.

“Turning Point: Contemporary Art In China Since 2000”, 24 July – 4 September 2016, Shanghai Minsheng Art Museum, exhibition installation view. Foreground left, Yan Bing, ‘Love’, 2016; background right, Yang Mushi, ‘Eroding’, 2016; centre left to right, Tang Dixin, ‘Torment’, 2014 and ‘Confinement’, 2014. Photo: Andrew Stooke.

Divergent perspectives on ecology are evoked by juxtapositions, such as between Yang Mushi’s high column of polystyrene, rendered coal-like by the solvent action of black spray paint, entitled Eroding (2016), and Yan Bing’s Love (2016), an Arte Poveralike sculptural arrangement of soil, iron and wheat.

Wang Zi, 'Forget-me-not', 2015, installation view, wooden stools, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai.

Wang Zi, ‘Forget-me-not’, 2015, installation view, wooden stools, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai.

Entitled Forget-me-not (2015), Wang Zi’s installation uses a collection of small chairs, usually deployed in Chinese cities for eating and resting by the roadside, inverted and suspended, and each fitted with a mechanical musical box activated through a pull cord. These works and others suggest ‘bare life’, as contrasted to sovereign power by influential Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben.

Wang Gi, 'Forget-me-not', 2015, installation view. Photo: Andrew Stooke.

Wang Gi, ‘Forget-me-not’, 2015, installation view. Photo: Andrew Stooke.

In this state of raw existence there is no “difference between being and acting”. Many works communicate the substance of actions, culminating in the final room of the show with, Gems (2013) by Liu Xinyi, a spectral collection of soft drinks in unlabelled bottles, arranged in ranks on shelves. Despite their temporary status as strongly coloured art they wait for their actual use in the act of drinking.

Liu Xinyi, 'Gems', 2013, stainless steel frames, soft drinks & fruit juice beverage, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai.

Liu Xinyi, ‘Gems’, 2013, stainless steel frames, soft drinks & fruit juice beverage, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai.

Lin Ke, 'Engineer', 2015, (video still), video, 3m:17s. Image courtesy the artist and Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai.

Lin Ke, ‘Engineer’, 2015, (video still), video, 3m:17s. Image courtesy the artist and Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai.

Artists such as Cai Guo Qiang, Xu Bing and Huang Yong Ping of the previous generation concerned themselves with big subjects, such as fire, language or faith, but this generation avoids universalities in favour of speculation and fragile gestures. This group are not sanguine regarding globalisation or the Internet. The aspiration towards a unified international future is now accompanied by sectarian conflicts and the affirmation of territories. For this reason the artists oppose the virtuoso spectacle of corporate international art with a gentle creativity in harmony with everyday living.

Yang Fudong, 'City Light', 2000, (video still) single channel video, colour, sound, 6m:00s. Image courtesy the artist and Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai.

Yang Fudong, ‘City Light’, 2000, (video still) single channel video, colour, sound, 6m:00s. Image courtesy the artist and Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai.

Li Ming, 'Nothing Happened Today No.2', 2012, (detail). Photo: Andrew Stooke.

Li Ming, ‘Nothing Happened Today No.2’, 2012, (detail). Photo: Andrew Stooke.

This everyday is humorously explored in several works, such as Li Ming’s four-channel video Nothing Happened Today No.2 (2012). The work’s title is featured in different casual scenarios. Considerable effort is expended, such as launching an airship with the words as its flanks, but the projects are profoundly aimless and inane. Similarly Ji Lei’s painting Place of Games—Flying Birds (2010) shows figures on a kursaal, a recreational device where a sensation of danger can be felt in a secure small scale environment.

Tao Hui, '1 Character & 7 Materials', 2015, sound & video installation, 11'48" 1 Character (Chinese version 13'55'', English version 17'43''); 7 Materials 11'48". Image courtesy Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai.

Tao Hui, ‘1 Character & 7 Materials’, 2015, sound & video installation, 11’48” 1 Character (Chinese version 13’55”, English version 17’43”); 7 Materials 11’48”. Image courtesy Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai.

Li Binuan, 'Long Jump', 2013. Photo: Andrew Stooke.

Li Binuan, ‘Long Jump’, 2013. Photo: Andrew Stooke.

In common with these examples, other works have an elliptical futility involving ordinary people and everyday places. For Long Jump (2013), a document of a performance, artist Li Bintan says:

“Between the cement road blocks at each side of the road I will exert all my strength to jump across every vehicle that passes trough the street.”

Li Binyuan, 'Freedom Farming', 2014, (video still) single channel video, 5m:00s. Image courtesy the artist and Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai.

Li Binyuan, ‘Freedom Farming’, 2014, (video still) single channel video, 5m:00s. Image courtesy the artist and Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai.

Yang Zhenzhong, 'Straight Line', 2012. Photo: Andrew Stooke.

Yang Zhenzhong, ‘Straight Line’, 2012. Photo: Andrew Stooke.

In Yang Zhenzhong’s video Straight Line (2012) an elderly person advances, balancing on a curb, from the extreme distance, moving slowly towards the camera. Eventually he passes the camera and the sequence resets. Slightly pointless but poignant too, the work suspends a single question through the entire static seven minute take­, a question that resonates in many of the works collected in the exhibition:

“what happens now?”

Andrew Stooke

1261

Related Topics: Chinese artists, installation, site-specific, video, museum exhibitions, events in Shanghai

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