Critics’ Picks

Liu Shiyuan, We Were Never Alone Never Bored, 2014, inkjet print on paper, fruits, dimensions variable.


“Memo II”

White Space Beijing 空白空间
No.255 Caochangdi, Airport Service Road, Chaoyang District
March 1 - April 20

As the plasma of energetic young art in Beijing and its feeder cities congeals around multiple discrete positions, at least four rival factions join the melee in this exhibition. The highest-profile subculture on view could be called conceptual painting (accompanied here by its de rigueur installation elements): Gao Lei, for instance, has connected a beehive, by way of metal tubing, to an astronaut in an armchair—the latter image a separate painting. Elsewhere, Yang Dongxue pairs a framed drawing with a motorized device of uncertain function. Largely flaccid and predictable, both these “combines” fail to measure up against the more formally confident work in the show, which sticks to single genres, forming an art of reference and quotation, hyperaware of the systems within which it circulates.

In Shiyuan Liu’s We Were Never Alone Never Bored, 2014, an apple and a pear are affixed to a sheet of paper printed with bright gradients; the object is so sensual and photogenic that one wonders what, if anything, it wants to say. Meanwhile, Tan Tian’s two sculptures delight with subtle yet forthcoming formal references: One is titled Thea Djordjadze + Mona Hatoum + Franz West, 2014, and the other, Jessica Jackson Hutchins + Nika Neelova + David Batchelor, 2013–14. The former is a chubby, cast pink pillow and a plasticky bright-yellow quilt, pinched in their middles by black iron chains; the latter appears as three logs coated with rainbow-tinted resin, piled onto a cushion near two shiny black balloons.

Figurative painting sheds its staid status here, appearing as vital as ever. Gong Jian stands out, with a depiction of a sunlit sculpture in a park, by working in a style far less melancholy than his peers—Zhai Liang, Tang Dayao, Wang Qiang, and Wang Min among them. However, they all use form and composition to develop a complex conversation about the fundamental problems of art: What does it mean to be an observer? To document? To reimagine? These are questions each generation considers anew, their answers echoing far beyond the discourse of painting alone.