Critics’ Picks

Yanjiang Group, Das Kapital Football, 2009, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Yanjiang Group, Das Kapital Football, 2009, mixed media, dimensions variable.


Yangjiang Group

Shanghai Minsheng Art Museum 上海民生现代美术馆
No.1929 Shibo Dadao Bldg F
November 8, 2013–February 22, 2014

Halfway through this retrospective of the Guangdong-based Yanjiang Group, one of the nine installations poses a dare: Are You Going to Enjoy Calligraphy or Measure Your Blood Pressure?, 2002, the title taunts. Positioned in a room of Pollock-like drip paintings that sloppily gesture at Chinese characters is a small table with a logbook in which viewers are invited to record their blood pressure with a working monitor “before viewing” and “after viewing.” Their intention is explicit: to attack calligraphy and “pedantry in all the fields of cultural privileges,” declares a text at the beginning of the show. While the work may at first seem brazen (the group often paints while drunk), it becomes more complexly combative over time, as it encourages—or coerces—our participation.

The exhibition opens onto a “garden” of fake tropical plants, along with a vibrating pool of crumpled sheets of calligraphy. In order to see the paintings within the installation, one has to stray off the path; the paintings—of blurry calligraphy overlaid with newspaper clippings—are hidden, unannounced, on the walls. The last galleries can only be reached by crossing Das Kapital Football, 2009, a field made of crumpled paper, with a few soccer balls thrown in, filling a small room. Two videos play where the goals should be: one of a soccer game on a similar, but stadium-size field; the other of two cheerleaders boredly presenting rolls of the same calligraphic paper. The installation both records and imitates a transgression as it simultaneously forces us to transgress it.

A parting shot: one gallery plays host to a faux bargain-mart with fare such as Hugo Boss shirts and Adidas track jackets that the group has painted over– which all can be rung up at the front desk. Shoddy signs declare everything marked down from 3000RMB to 300RMB (about $500 reduced to $50). After such anti-establishment swagger, charging the audience for the privilege feels like the ultimate way to “fuck off the rules,” including any rules inadvertently implied by the group itself.