Happy Together

LACMA director/CEO Michael Govan, Hyundai’s head of space innovation Cornelia Schneider, Michelle Tek and collector Budi Tek. All photos: Alvin Li.

THERE’S AN OLD CHINESE SAYING, “Food is the heaven of the people.” As it happens, one of the things I most look forward to during art week, anywhere in the world, is the immoderate free dinners. This time, the slew of feasts in Shanghai kicked off with a private dinner put on by Hyundai to celebrate their partnership with the Yuz Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. This, I was told, would be the only meal all week to have both LACMA CEO and director Michael Govan and Yuz Museum founder Budi Tek in attendance.

Monday, 7:30 PM sharp: I arrived at Bloom, a chic open-kitchen bistro known for delicate small plates including uni risotto and tuna tataki. Only Tek was served the restaurant’s signature dish: pine-needle-smoked baby chicken. Halfway through, he rose to recount his early, auspicious investment in poultry, which led to collecting art and consequently the founding of the Yuz Museum (and, most recently, a historic alliance between LACMA and Qatar Museums, Doha, for future programming). If that chick on his plate was a deliberate prop, it was some truly next-level PR. If not, call it a mixture of serendipity and sheer eloquence on Tek’s part. “Sorry, but we are running out of time,” the entrepreneur remarked toward the end of his speech, excusing his exit by alluding to his ill health. “I never used to do this, but . . . please support us!”

Two days later, Yuz’s “In Production: Art and the Studio System,” curated by LACMA’s Rita Gonzalez, proved an astute choice for the inaugural Yuz x LACMA collaboration: It saluted an LA collection without feeling irrelevant to Shanghai, a city once home to the largest film studios in Asia in the 1930s and, more recently, iconic filmmakers such as Lou Ye and Yang Fudong. (That Hollywood is already ingrained in the cultural imaginary of practically everywhere also helps.) I was most struck by one of Mike Kelley’s “Kandor” sculptures, in which Superman’s lost hometown is resurrected inside a bell jar hooked to an air tank. Beholding this far-out tableau, I pondered the unceasing flow of energy that juices the globe-trotting operations of contemporary art and its capitals.

Artists Yu Honglei and Guan Xiao.

A stone’s throw away, another partnership—this time between Centre Pompidou and the West Bund Group—had ripened into the brand-new West Bund Art Museum. I entered with painter Jill Mulleady and spent a while taking in its incredibly slippery floor and vehemently European architectonics. By the time we left the building, it was already dark outside. For a second I’d forgotten whether I was in Paris, a postmodern LA, or present-day Shanghai.

On November 7, while attending to my curatorial duties for “D.E.E.P.,” a section of an exhibition co-presented by K11 and Nowness that opened the next day, I managed to take a break from installing for a quick look around. At Aike, Li Ran’s two videos—but also and especially his outré, amorous paintings took my breath away. “The videos are amazing,” observed LEAP’s Lai Fei. “But why so many paintings?”

That eve, I walked out of ART021 feeling asphyxiated by art-fair art (also Santal 33 by Le Labo—the unofficial fragrance for the art world, regrettably). Why 021 and West Bund decided to open to VIPs on the same day this year is open to interpretation. Less so is how exhausted the decision made us. A few booths stood out, especially Balice Hertling’s at 021, which included Puppies Puppies’ room-size installation Tombstone (Andrew D. Olivo 6.7.89–6.7.18), 2018—a tombstone in a bone-strewn field commemorating the artist’s transition. The night before, I told Daniele Balice over WeChat that I was dying to see it. There, at the booth, the ever-charming gallerist revealed his own near-death experience when, that day, a visiting state censor questioned the intent of the number eighty-nine etched into the stone.

Balice Hertling’s Daniele Balice.

Friday night’s K11 x MOCA afterparty drunkenly blurred by on the dance floor. I vaguely remember catching up with Michael Elmgreen at the bar, and later Cao Fei and her partner Lim Tzay Chuen outside. One highlight of the week arrived Saturday, when Rockbund Art Museum director Larys Frogier led his entire team in an enthralling performance lasting a good half-hour during their annual “Ya Vae” gala. Never mind the slightly confusing narrative, it was enough to see the director himself onstage, dressed in a skintight black vest and Ray-Bans, like a Tom of Finland muse. “The drama, starts, here . . .” Peres Projects’ Nick Koenigsknecht, seated behind me, couldn’t help but sing along.

I wrapped up my art week with wine on Sunday night in the company of several Hong Kongers—including Tai Kwun’s Xue Tan and Daniel Ho and Empty Gallery’s Alexander Lau—and the Shanghai-based Lisa Movius. We couldn’t have predicted how things would escalate over the next days a few thousand miles south, where a man was set on fire and, soon after, the Chinese University of Hong Kong turned into a fiery battlefield. My thoughts roamed to Wong Kar-Wai’s Happy Together. Released in May 1997, just before Hong Kong passed from British colonial rule to the People’s Republic of China, Wong’s now-classic queer erotic has been widely read, however much against the director’s will, as a political allegory for an irretrievable state of unity. On my way out of Shanghai, I dozed off to the film’s soundtrack, dreaming of the next reunion in a Pearl of the East still standing strong.

Curator Rita Gonzalez, Yuz Foundation deputy director Leigh Tanner and founder of yehyehyeh Shaway Yeh.

Mike Kelley’s Kandor at Yuz Museum, Shanghai.

Long March Space director Aimee Lin and artist He Yida.

Urs Meile’s Rene Meile, Taipei Dangdai codirectors Magnus Renfrew and Robin Peckham.

Peres Projects’ Nick Koenigsknecht and Javier Peres.

Artists Tao Hui and Yi Xin Tong.

Empty Gallery’s Stephen Cheng, curator Freya Chou, and Empty Gallery’s Alexander Lau.

Blum and Poe’s Felicia Chen, Tai Kwun’s Xue Tan, and Antenna Space’s Simon Wang.

Artist Michael Elmgreen, David Kordansky’s Donald Ryan, and Kurimanzutto’s Malik Al-Mahrouky.

ROH Project’s Jun Tirtadji and NOVA Contemporary’s Sutima Junko.

Rockbund Art Museum director Larys Frogier.

Artist Jill Mulleady.