The Chinese critic and artist will lead the Shanghai institution after Yongwoo Lee.
Recently announced as the new Director of the Shanghai Himalayas Museum, Wang Nanming advocates for the breaking of boundaries in contemporary art and challenging conventions in art practice.
A leading Chinese artist, curator and art critic based in Shanghai, Wang Nanming (b. 1962) will lead the Shanghai Himalayas Museum riding on the success of previous Director Dr Yongwoo Lee, who established and co-curated the Shanghai Project (now running at the Museum in its second chapter) with Hans Ulrich Obrist.
In the recent announcement of his appointment as new Director of the Shanghai institution, Wang Nanming is introduced as
[…] one of the most influential critics in the field of Chinese contemporary art, he is a crucial advocate of “avant-garde,” “post-avant-garde” and “metavant-garde” within a Chinese context.
Wang is a leading figure in the Chinese contemporary art landscape, who has dedicated his career to the exploration of crossdisciplinary practices and studies. He is an advocate of the breaking of boundaries in contemporary art and challenging conventions in art practice. He also maintains that the notion of an exhibition should extend from being purely aesthetic to becoming a social-interactive space, transforming the museum into a forum for critical debate on social issues.
For decades, Wang has been setting new directions in art practice and criticism, taking part and creating dynamic discussions in the Chinese art scene as an artist, critic and curator. In the 1990s, Wang was an active part of the HK Commune and the development of Artists’ Studios, and organised numerous exhibitions during that period. Between 2007–09, he was the editor-in-chief of the art magazines Art Focus and Art Time. He was also professor in Art System and Law at the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, where he established new courses and nurtured a young generation of critics. Wang is the author of numerous publications, and is also an artist whose works, including Calligraphy Balls, Tayin Drought and Taihu Lake, are in the collections of the British Museum, Annie Wong Art Foundation and National Art Museum of China.
Understanding art in its local context
Wang has elaborated a theory of “avant-avant-garde art” in the Chinese context (which encompasses “avant-garde,” “post-avant-garde” and “metavant-garde”), as he explains in an essay entitled “Art in its Regional Political Context: Exhibition and Criticism” (published in A New Thoughtfulness in Contemporary China: Critical Voices in Art and Aesthetics, [transcript]Verlag, 2014, pp. 131-142):
In my theory [of avant-avant-garde art], a great number of factors have to be taken into consideration when appreciating art: vestiges of the past together with the present context, specific problem situations along with regional politics, avant garde art’s persistent deconstruction of art and its critical nature. It is a new methodology for art appreciation, and without it we simply cannot analyze any worthwhile piece of art whatsoever.
Wang goes on to explain that it is of paramount importance to understand the local context in which an artwork originates and an artist operates in order to really grasp its meaning and significance, as “every country has its own specific problems, [therefore] the social problems which attract the attention of artists also vary”. This, he says, is a consequence of “the hiatus between political globalization and each country’s individual political development”.
Since the beginning of the new millennium, Wang has concentrated on the critique of the “most provocative and contentious” performance art, installation and photography. By examining these practices, he has studied the shift of contemporary art in China from the manifestation of aesthetics to sociopolitical commentaries. Wang has always been committed to “reinforce an in-depth understanding” of Chinese contemporary art across the globe, as he believes that
Faced with a work of art, it is most important that the public have an understanding of its period and region, especially now that contemporary art has left the epic narrative style to enter a field where specific social problems are a topic […].
Looking forward: inclusivity
Wang is planning to implement innovative programming and operational plans for the Shanghai Himalayas Museum. His projects will include a re-examination of the ideological context between contemporary art and traditional art. He will also initiate the Young Thinker Residency programme to encourage self-reflexivity amongst a new generation, and will be expanding collaborations with higher education organisations. Wang also plans to strengthen the museum’s interaction with public thought and opinion, “re-establishing the museum’s implicitly public nature”. Another important change the new Director will bring about is abolishing the position of in-house curator in order to bring in multiple curatorial voices. Ultimately, Wang plans to “generate an organic and research-led programme” by collaborating with independent curators, critics and researchers from various backgrounds.
C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia
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