Critics’ Picks

View of “ON | OFF,” 2013.

Beijing

“ON | OFF”

Ullens Center for Contemporary Art 尤伦斯当代艺术中心
798 Art Zone, No. 4 Jiuxianqiao Road, Chaoyang District
January 13 - April 14

“ON | OFF” gathers fifty mainland Chinese artists born after 1976, a watershed year marked in the collective consciousness by Mao’s death and the end of the Cultural Revolution. Similar to the New Museum’s Generational, this vast exhibition aims to survey China’s young artists in concept and practice, and in a definitive fashion. Curators Sun Dongdong and Bao Dong begin with the conceit that young Chinese artists are often overshadowed by qualifiers like “young” and “Chinese,” which pigeonhole the meanings and densities of their work with about as much subtlety as the distinction between “on” and “off.”

What, then, are the statements and priorities of this generation? For many, size simply for the sake of its imposition is the order of the day: Large-scale installations by Xin Yunpeng, Tang Dixin, He Xiangyu, and Huang Ran embody this principle with works that offer spectacle but little substance. That said, other artists display a sensitivity to the patterns of commerce, production, and power that structure the world around them. Li Liao’s Consumption, 2012, features documentation of a performance in which Li purchased an iPad mini using wages earned from forty-five days of work in a Shenzhen Foxconn factory, simultaneously raising and disrupting Marx’s theory of the alienation of labor in the present context. For Uncertain Capital, 2009, Wang Sishun melted twenty thousand RMB into a solid metal cube, while Lee Fuchun’s B2B2C, 2010–12, investigates the modes of exchange and production inherent to e-commerce.

As a whole, “ON | OFF” is a boisterous exhibition and notably resists many of the connective moments that might create a sense of thematic unity or texture. For an exhibition that is as much an index of the times as it is a declaration of arrival, “ON | OFF” documents a complex and confused moment with all its contradictions, superficialities and depths