Critics’ Picks

Ma Quisha, Milk Road, 2007, color photograph, 39 3/8 x 28 3/4".

Ma Quisha, Milk Road, 2007, color photograph, 39 3/8 x 28 3/4".


“Portraying Food (and the Absence of It)”

Walsh Gallery
118 N. Peoria 2nd Floor
July 17, 2013–July 19, 2008

The common denominator in this multigenerational exhibition of five Chinese artists, curated by Wu Hung, might be food, but there is nothing to eat, much less whet the appetite. On the contrary, the artists make the edible at once banal and fragile, spectacular and disquieting, magic and gross. The bodily, social, and aesthetic satisfaction of a good meal has no place here, among Chen Wenbo’s garish, monumental paintings depicting egg yolks, their advertisement-ready glossiness violently interrupted by their diagonally split canvases and the worrisome series title, “Epidemiology,” 2006. Lui Jianhua likewise keeps comfort at bay, but via opposite means: His installation of dozens of white porcelain objects, all jammed together, reduces milk cartons, bananas, apples, baby bottles, toy shark heads, padlocks, and monkey wrenches to a stultifying sameness, the useful objects of life enshrined in blank uniformity. In Shen Shaomin’s series “Experimental Field,” 2004, a crop of desiccated Chinese cabbages, coated with bone powder, hybridizes to become fragile containers for small animal skeletons, referencing the magic but horrific specter of genetic modification. Ma Qiusha, the youngest artist in the exhibition and also the only female, stages embarrassing encounters between bodies and milk, photographing the liquid running down women’s calves and feet, as if streaming from unseen orifices. The scenes, cropped at subjects’ knees and situated in various environments, from office to street to house, make women’s milk not something nourishing but messy, fluid, and animal. Finally, the leftovers: Greasy scraps on round white plates fill Zhu Yu’s meticulous large-scale canvases, memorializing the unappetizing remains of meals past. Photorealistic from afar, the depictions break down up close into mesmerizing abstractions: Food molecules dissolve into daubs of paint, and the dishes, seen from above, gleam like celestial expanses. The effect is nothing like the dependable promise of food comforts, and it is this lack that haunts the foodstuffs of this exhibition, rendering the artworks all the more involving, tossing and turning the pit of one’s stomach.