Shanghai Express

Philip Tinari at the opening of James Cohan Shanghai


Left: Artist Xu Zhen with Long March's Lu Jie. Right: Collector Jeanne Lawrence, dealer James Cohan, and collector Pamela Kramlich. (Photos: Philip Tinari)

In recent years, the foreign-gallery opening in China has developed into a complex ritual with its own unique social lexicon. Who can forget Galleria Continua’s 798 debut back in 2005, leaving Beijing awash in prosciutto, pecorino, and Chen Zhen installations? Or Galerie Faurschou’s dinner last November for the absent but still-living Rauschenberg, whose work opened their Beijing space, under a rented tent and catered by the Chinese capital’s lone Michelin-certified chef? Pace Beijing originally scheduled its China debutante ball for the Day of the Aligning Eights (8-8-08), to coincide with that other, slightly bigger coming-out party: the Olympic opening ceremony.

Such was the deep background for James Cohan Gallery’s tasteful garden wedding to Shanghai. At the end of a lane buried in a prime patch of the tree-lined French Concession, in a house, once occupied by the Chinese military, painted with the requisite fading Maoist slogan above the door, two hundred or so gathered last Thursday evening to celebrate the opening of Cohan’s Shanghai satellite with a group show of gallery artists on the theme of “Mining Nature.” Shanghai and New York being closer than they once were, the crowd was full of more than a few Chelsea habitués: Cohan director Arthur Solway (now fully relocated to Shanghai), video collector extraordinaire Pam Kramlich (a Shanghai half-timer), Performa curator Defne Ayas (in Shanghai more or less full-time, teaching for NYU), Wallpaper writer Andrew Yang (the man on the ground for Shanghai’s new “100% Design” fair), and even New York Social Diary contributor Jeanne Lawrence (in Shanghai “indefinitely”). This is, of course, to say nothing of the jet-setting Chinese—dealer Lu Jie, artist Zhou Tiehai, novelist Mian Mian, to name just a few—who closed the cross-continental gap long ago. And in a moment one could liken to the tossing of the bouquet, Jay Jopling appeared with a retinue of White Cube directors and local consultant (and former Ullens Center deputy director) Colin Chinnery in tow, prompting speculation that he might be next.

Left: White Cube creative director Susan May and director Tim Marlow with curator Colin Chinnery. (Photo: Philip Tinari) Right: James Cohan director Arthur Solway (right) with a friend. (Photo: Defne Ayas)

The garden party ended after repeated nudges in the form of flickering lights. Then it was on to restaurant M on the Bund, the continental standby with a manager who looks and talks like Truman Capote. Cohan’s college buddy—a longtime Shanghai expat with gruff, fluent Mandarin—gave the toast, a vague homage to dreams dreamed and dreams realized. Conspicuously absent from the family-of-the-bride table was Shanghai artist Xu Zhen, who had a solo show with Cohan in New York in February. (He didn’t attend that opening either, owing to a legendary fear of flying.) The four tables worked their way through three courses, syncopated by the rhythm of smokers running off to the bar between services.

After dessert, Solway sat down at my table and waxed poetic about his decision to Go East. He had lived in New York since 1979, drawn there after his father, a Cleveland art dealer, took him for a weekend in the city instead of giving him a bar mitzvah. They saw a lot of exhibitions, visited “Teeny” Duchamp on Tenth Street, and even caught a live performance of Hair. “It was not unlike the feeling I had first coming to Shanghai,” back in the early years of this decade. Who guessed that the Age of Aquarius might resonate here, today?

Left: Writer Andrew Yang with Performa's Defne Ayas. Right: Dealer Angela Li and architect Patrice Butler. (Photos: Philip Tinari)