Conceptual artist Shen Shaomin explores notions of value in the art world.
Chinese conceptual artist Shen Shaomin’s new exhibition “Keep Upright” at Klein Sun Gallery in New York examines the institutional grammar and protocols of art handling, in a critique of the circulation and creation of value in the art world.
Moving from China to Australia in the early 1990s, Shen Shaomin returned to China in 2011 and began showing widely internationally. Shen Shaomin is known for his hyperrealist sculpture and installation. His well-known work The Great Corpse (2006) is a hyperrealistic sculpture of a naked, dead Chairman Mao. Other works made throughout the late 2000s focus on critiquing the relentless reach of globalisation and consumerism, the effects of neoliberal financial capitalism and the contradictions at the heart of the organic, ecological and green movements.
“Keep Upright” and hyper-realism
The current exhibition running until 29 April 2017 at New York’s Klein Sun Gallery, entitled “Keep Upright”, shows the artist turning his critical eye to the art world’s backstage, with the idea that it is behind the scenes that symbolic and financial value is concocted. Delving into the “pre-installation” condition of art, Shen Shaomin presents his latest paintings, referred to as “The MoMA Series”.
These painting are a series of copies of some of the most famous works of modern and contemporary art, rendered as if they were wrapped in protective plastic packaging ready to be shipped. Displayed together, Shen Shaomin’s trompe l’oeil reproduction of iconic Cubist, Surrealist and Abstract Impressionist masterpieces are particularly convincing. Some of the paintings have even been propped up against the wall as if they are about to be hung. This collection – which together functions as an installation – demonstrates that hyperrealism is still Shen Shaomin’s favourite artistic strategy.
“The MoMA collection”
As indicated by the title, paintings from this series are drawn from MoMA’s extensive collection. “Removing” the paintings from the institution, Shen Shaomin then “repacks” and transfers them into the physical space and the context of a gallery, theatricalising one of the unseen infrastructures of art transportation. In his irreverent act of copying contemporary art masterpieces, the artist issues an institutional critique that challenges modes of art preservation, as well as the promotion of “celebrity” art works by the very institutions that own them.
The exhibition also unveils a new series commissioned by the gallery. For the series entitled “Faded Classic-Left Over Fish”, Shen Shaomin has reproduced paintings such as Still Life with Cat and Fish (1728) by Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin and Still Life with Fish, Candle, Artichokes, Crabs and Shrimp (1611) by Clara Peeters, but has intentionally excluded the fish depicted in the original paintings by the 17th and 18th century Rococo artists. Shen Shaomin then fills their absence with mechanical fish that move underneath the paintings.
In an exercise of erasure and replacement, Shen Shaomin plants further questions about the preservation of artworks over time and the ways in which their meanings are constructed by the institutions that own them. “Keep Upright” seems to want to critique curating practices across time, from the 17th century to the present. Where “curate” might once really have meant “care”, Shen Shaomin suggests that in a globalised world, curating is the art of packaging, transporting, showing and selling.
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