Critics’ Picks

  • Duan Jianyu, Automatic Writing No.1, 2019,oil, acrylic, oil-based marker and spray paint on canvas, 70 7/8 x 78 3/4''.

    Duan Jianyu, Automatic Writing No.1, 2019,
    oil, acrylic, oil-based marker and spray paint on canvas, 70 7/8 x 78 3/4''.


    Duan Jianyu

    Pond Society 池社
    No.2555-4 Longteng Ave, Xuhui District
    September 5–October 31, 2020

    Though small in scale, Duan Jianyu’s new solo exhibition, “Automatic Writing - Automatic Understanding,” covers the artist’s creative output from 2014 to 2020, giving viewers a sense of how her practice has evolved since her two-person show with Hu Xiaoyuan at Shanghai’s Rockbund Art Museum in 2013. Duan’s motifs remain consistent, evoking elements of traditional Chinese painting, Western modernism, China’s contemporary cityscapes, and shifting conceptions of femininity. Of course, male identity figures in Duan’s painterly world too, in works such as Gong Xian, 2014, and Automatic Writing No.1, 2019, with their comic and pathetic masculine types. In the former, the lines that describe the epynomous seventeenth-century hermit painter's swollen body seem to collapse into the traditional Chinese landscape behind him. In the latter, the paintbrush poised between a besuited gentleman’s toes implicates him as the maker of the painterly marks and signs scattered across the composition’s background.

    Duan has made artist’s books and novellas, and her paintings have never lacked a literary quality. Viewers might surmise from the rich details of Michelin Seven Stars No.2, 2020—the decoration of the room, the bedraggled hair and lonely expression of its female protagonist, her body hidden beneath a large, wrinkled Issey Miyake–style gown, and the glass of red wine clasped between her fingers—that the painting portrays an haute bourgeoise woman in the midst of a mid-life crisis. At the same time, Duan invokes the painterly grammar and spatial flatness of European modernism, seeming to thread endlessly between discourse and figuration. What matters is where our eyes fall.

    Translated from Chinese by Qing Zhang.

  • Alec Soth, Bill, Sandusky, Ohio, 2012, ink-jet print, 44 1/4 × 57 1/4". Courtesy Sean Kelly.

    Alec Soth, Bill, Sandusky, Ohio, 2012, ink-jet print, 44 1/4 × 57 1/4". Courtesy Sean Kelly.


    Alec Soth

    Shanghai Center of Photography 上海摄影艺术中心
    No. 2555-1 Longteng Dadao
    August 1–November 20, 2020

    Alec Soth’s first solo exhibition in China has come at the lowest point, politically, in US-China relations in several decades. That “The Space Between Us” has proven to be immensely popular—crowds lined up in Shanghai’s searing summer heat to see it—is indicative less of local interest in Soth as an artist than of an intense fascination with the vision of America his work presents. Along with LaToya Ruby Frazier, Soth marks the twenty-first century continuation of the tradition established by the likes of Walker Evans, documenting the lives of those Americans destined to dwell in the lands deemed the “flyover states” by urban cynics—places that register as more authentically American from the perspective of the outsider.

    The show functions as a sort of retrospective, examining facets of Soth’s career that are enmeshed in this story of middle America as well as those which fall outside of it, such as portraits of fellow artists and critics he has met in his travels throughout Europe and the United States, including a blurred portrait of New York City-based photography critic Vince Aletti. But it is ultimately his images of the loners and eccentrics of the Midwest and the tattered landscapes they belong to that remain embedded in the memory, for those who have never directly experienced these places, and for those of us who, for our various reasons, cannot go home.