It seemed that half of the art world in Hong Kong for Art Basel hightailed it to Shanghai for the opening of the Yuz Museum the weekend after the fair, but one important guest didn’t make it: “I AM ON MY WAY,” read the note on a printout of Anselm Kiefer’s Les Reines de France, which was stuck in transit in HK.
“Yeah, that’s a problem,” Yuz Museum founder Budi Tek said of the holdup, a few hours before hundreds of guests arrived to see his new, nearly one-hundred-thousand-square-foot private museum. The Kiefer was to be a centerpiece of “Myth/History,” the inaugural exhibition of contemporary work from the Indonesian-Chinese farming magnate’s vast collection, curated by Wu Hung. Or, as Tek described the show, “a big bang!”
I had toured the museum last November, when it was a tangle of bamboo scaffolding over a wet dirt ground. Only six months later, the museum is complete, the entryway a clear cage of glass that holds a Maurizio Cattelan tree inside, which caps the front of a burnt-red, huge M-roofed expanse. The structure, like a futuristic art barn, takes up a whole block of what the city now calls the West Bund Cultural Corridor.
“We see birds. We see dragons. We see flying things!” Wu said during the opening ceremony, speaking to the dinosaur-size works by Zhang Huan, Xu Bing, Huang Yong Ping, and Do Ho Suh on display in the main gallery, a former hangar. Adel Abdessemed’s Telle mère tel fis, a sixty-five-foot-long airplane with a felt body, stretched and twisted through the hall. Adjacent, Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s Freedom boomed every few minutes, as hoses blasted water at the sides of huge metal vat outfitted with portholes that people crowded around, trying to get a look at the chaos inside.
Freedom leaked. Custodians armed with vacuums tried to erase the seepage of water after each set. “China style!” dealer James Cohan joked. Another guest suggested, humorously, that Xu Zhen had dispatched the workers as a performance art piece. “You have to see it in person,” said dealer Emmanuel Perrotin, adding that he showed the artist’s work last year at his Paris gallery.
Tek mentioned that now he collects art only in terms of what to put in the massive museum. “I don’t know if it’s good or bad,” he said. “But it’s OK. Everything is big!” Indeed, it was hard for anyone not to defer back to that statement of sheer fact, as art worlders like Zhang Xiaogang, Jay Jopling, and LEAP publisher Cao Dan were dwarfed by installation after installation in the hangar.
The second floor, where slightly smaller works prevailed, was accessible by way of a pitch-black stairwell outfitted with an installation of red lasers by Li Hui. “This is really difficult,” said Li Yan, director of Lehmann Maupin’s Hong Kong space, as she attempted the trek in stilettos. Once there, a series of glam photos by Yang Fudong dressed the outer walls of the galleries, and inside were paintings by Ding Yi, Zhou Tiehai, Liu Xiaodong, and Zhang Enli.
The smell of the place might have been an artwork of its own, a mix of tart tobacco scent from Xu Bing’s Tobacco Project, the fragrance from the inevitable life-size lily bouquets at Chinese openings, and the faint chemical odor of fresh paint. Maybe I was imagining that last bit, but when I wandered, lost, past the Yoshitomo Nara house upstairs, beyond the VIP lounge, and onto the (again, massive) roof, I saw that a hardhat had been left behind, as if abandoned hours before. China moves fast.
At an afterparty in the museum courtyard, guests ate beef skewers and hot dogs on sticks while “Nasty Girl” blared from the DJ booth. By 8 PM, people began to talk about a mysterious “Art Restaurant” on the other side of town, and so we made our way to Qiao Zhibing’s just-opened spot. With its pale mint walls, creamy white moldings, and ornate chandeliers, the restaurant resembled a ballroom trying to be a wedding cake. The space is furnished with Chinese art like Xu Zhen’s Physique of Consciousness and Under Heaven series, and private dining rooms have “themes” provided by artists like Yang Fudong.
“This is amazing,” Armory Show director Noah Horowitz said as he looked over the Xu Zhen–designed menu, featuring the same Under Heaven series background that had accoutered the official materials for the fair in March. “It’s like the normcore version of the Factory,” UCCA director Philip Tinari added. (He meant Warhol’s, not Xu Zhen’s MadeIn Company.)
Most people quickly abandoned their meals for a private tour of Ye Shanghai, Qiao’s karaoke palace next door, where an Antony Gormley sculpture overlooks a balcony and more works by Zhang Enli and Xu Zhen appear behind glass cases. Beauty pageant contestants in matching dresses paraded through the endless floors of marble and gilding and lasers. “Do you like surrealism?” someone asked me as I looked over a balcony, at a girl singing a ballad on a stage soaked in green light, flanked by yet more Yang Fudong photographs. Sifang Art Museum founder Lu Xun had made his way over to Ye Shanghai too. Was it surreal? “I’m used to it,” he said.