Critics’ Picks

Guo Hongwei, Autumn Tour, 2007, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Guo Hongwei, Autumn Tour, 2007, mixed media, dimensions variable.


“Refresh: Emerging Chinese Artists”

Zendai Museum of Modern Art | 证大现代艺术馆
Zendai Thumb Plaza, 199 Fangdian Road | 浦东芳甸路199弄28号大拇指广场
September 23–November 8, 2007

In the art world’s unrelenting pursuit of the continually new, “Refresh: Emerging Chinese Artists,” a group exhibition at ZenDai MoMA, waves its youthful hand for attention. This show of thirty-six artists, most born during the 1980s, presents an eclectic range of media and mall-rat sensibilities in a museum situated, oddly enough, in a mall. These artists are of China’s first generation to experience an entirely economic-reform-era life, complete with its material privileges and freedoms unimaginable to previous generations. Consequently, much of the work displays concerns less akin to their socially and politically infatuated predecessors and more attuned to a burgeoning global culture.

Consumerism and its discontents greet the viewer in the lobby: A table case by Sha Weichen displays an array of home-electronic equipment meticulously constructed out of black tape. Nearby, light boxes show a bright mountain of small toys, apparently self-portraits of the artist, Fan Mingzhu, buried beneath. The show’s centerpiece, a humorous blend of sculpture and painting by Guo Hongwei, is a square of actual lawn littered with Coke cans, condom wrappers, and banana peels made from multiple layers of acrylic paint. Several photographers depict misguided youth in various stages of undress, intoxication, and reflection (à la Wolfgang Tillmans), reminding viewers that this image-obsessed generation is also one that is entirely sibling-free. However, the results of China’s one-child-per-family experiment are most successfully transmitted here via video. In a piece dedicated to her parents, Ma Qiusha recites the story of her life with a razor blade in her mouth. In Zu Weimin’s inscrutable video, execution-style killings unfold in a gritty industrial wasteland to a reggae version of Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind.” Another video shows a rifle scope focusing in on and felling pedestrian traffic, a nod to the pervasive influence of gaming on China’s youth. The curatorial aim of the show is to “refresh,” to make anew the hitherto categorically confined name game of historians. Despite much derivativeness and a desperate need for a final edit, the show presents young artists with a plethora of promising territory to explore.