PRINT December 2011

Lee Ambrozy

Pavel Büchler, Report on Damage (Poster), 2011, silk screen on paper, 70 7/8 x 47 1/4". From “My Communism: Poster Exhibition.”

1 “My Communism: Poster Exhibition” (TOP Contemporary Art Center, Shanghai; curated by Yang Zhenzhong, Zhou Xiaohu, Xu Zhen, Jin Feng, Lu Xinghua, Ding Li, Shi Qing, and Philippe Pirotte) The title of this show was left out of press releases, lest it raise eyebrows, but the articulation of “My Communism” was clear in the 128 posters, by some fifty artists, that filled the repurposed factory and enormous white gallery of TOP in suburban Shanghai. Created by Chinese and international participants alike, the designs speak to experiences of living under socialism and engage in a range of social critiques, the cacophony of styles suggesting a kind of utopian collectivism. In his wall text, cocurator Lu Xinghua proposes an “art internationale” that would “meet contemporary Chinese artists’ desires for both local uniqueness and global universality.” I hated myself for just wanting to buy a book.

Tallur L. N., Apocalypse (The Coin Polisher) (detail), 2010, electromagnetic polishing system, coin, cage, wall text, 82 5/8 x 82 5/8 x 70 7/8". From “Place, Time, Play: India-China Contem­porary Art Exhibition.”

2 “Place, Time, Play: India-China Contemporary Art Exhibition” (various venues, Shanghai; curated by Chaitanya Sambrani) This exhibition of artists from India and China was mounted under the auspices of West Heavens, a multipronged effort (initiated by the Institute of Visual Culture at China Academy of Art, Hangzhou, and Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong) to ameliorate the lack of intellectual exchange between these two Asian powers. Noncommercial encounters with Indian artists on the mainland are rare, so the opportunity to see such works as Tallur L. N.’s impressive Apocalypse (The Coin Polisher), 2010, was a treat. After one drops a coin into the doughnut-shaped apparatus, thousands of swirling electromagnetic fibers polish the metal to a smooth, anonymous surface, “civilizing” it by erasing its distinguishing marks—a subversive warning about Westernization to which both civilizations can relate.

View of “Pattern-Vortex- Encounter: Museum of Unknown,” 2011, Space Station, Beijing.

3 Museum of Unknown Quite simply, museums in China are nothing like what you’d expect. State museums operate like galleries with wall space for rent. Private museums, for their part, aren’t much better. In response, Qiu Anxiong and five others created Museum of Unknown, an itinerant series of lectures and installations that explore the ways in which museums impact the reception of art and imagine an institution oriented purely toward artistic production. Their respect for the unknown and utter abandonment to process is akin to a spiritual journey.

View of “The Third Party—An Exhibition in Three Acts,” 2011, Platform China, Beijing. From left: Li Naihan, The Beehive, 2011; Yan Lei, Whomever You Don’t Know Is Art, 2010.

4 “The Third Party––An Exhibition in Three Acts” (Platform China, Beijing; curated by Beatrice Leanza) Unfolding in three “acts,” this research-driven exhibition examined individual history, collaboration, and the archive. Each iteration of the show featured adaptable hexagonal cardboard modules designed by Li Naihan, which served as pedestals or makeshift walls. Collectively titled The Beehive, 2011, these units encouraged a reading of the exhibition as practice—rather than object—oriented, and fostered continuity among the acts. The Italian curator’s analysis of the wide range of practices on the mainland was refreshing, revealing that “outsider” perspectives on the Chinese art ecosystem can truly augment local ones.

Co-organized with BAO Atelier, Beijing.

Zhang Peili, A Gust of Wind, 2008, five-channel video, destroyed film set. Installation view, Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai, 2011.

5 “Certain Pleasures: Zhang Peili Retrospective” (Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai; curated by Guo Xiaoyan) Zhang Peili’s videos deconstruct Chinese social and political reality with broad, straightforward gestures. In his works from the early 2000s, he isolated tropes from revolutionary films––such as frenzied applause––and repeated them to the point of absurdity. Compare that strategy with those in more recent work, such as his colossal A Gust of Wind, 2008. The husk of a destroyed middle-class house stood in the center of a room, while a multiscreen projection played footage of the home’s original, pristine interior imploding from the power of a gathering wind—in slow motion. Peili’s works simultaneously shatter our illusions and indulge our nihilistic fantasies.

Wang Guangle, 20110423, 2011, plaster, paint, 15' 1“ x 47' 7” x 1' 7 5/8".

6 Wang Guangle (Beijing Commune) Wang Guangle’s most poignant artworks are as labor-intensive as they are fleeting. To create Wall, 2004, he spent three months painting his studio with a trompe l’oeil of minuscule terrazzo tile—though the building was slated for demolition shortly thereafter. Similarly, for 20110423, 2011—the sole work in this show—he layered white paint to create a convex elliptical form that, despite its dense materiality, seems to hover on the gallery wall.

Yasuto Masumoto, Blue, Red, White and Yellow, 2011. Performance view, Observation Society, Guangzhou, China, 2011.

7 Yasuto Masumoto (Observation Society, Guangzhou, China; curated by Hitomi Hasegawa) Masumoto’s latest participatory performance involved a water war among a small community of Guangzhou locals. Detritus from the conflict—water-bottle rockets, broken water balloons, plus graffitied cardboard signs detailing his great-grandmother’s exposure to radiation in Hiroshima during World War II—were arranged within Observation Society’s storefront space for the duration of the exhibition. Three flags hung ceremoniously by the door, but of course, the victor among these fictitious states was inconsequential: The wet mess made a mockery of the abstract concept of “nation.”

Co-organized with the Moving Image Archive of Contemporary Art, Tokyo.

MadeIn Company, Physique of Consciousness (Exercise 3), 2011. Performance view, Long March Space, Beijing, April 15, 2011.

8 MadeIn company, “Physique of Consciousness” (Long March Space, Beijing) The centerpiece of this exhibition was Physique of Consciousness, a thirty-minute exercise routine consisting of ten movements. Created by consulting a wide range of traditional meditation techniques and ceremonial gestures, the routine continues the Chinese tradition of exercise-as-ideology: The Boxers had their secret martial arts, Yan’an Communists their yangge. MadeIn’s exercises—tailor-made for the urban globalist—are a political statement for our plural age.

View of “Will You Miss Me When I Burn?” 2011, C-Space, Beijing. Foreground: Guan Xiao, 4 Years Old, 2010. Background: Zhou Yi, Ink, 2010.

9 “Will You Miss Me When I Burn?” (C-Space, Beijing; curated by Robbin Heyker) How to erase intentionality from a deliberate act? To investigate, Heyker asked Zhou Yi, Guan Xiao, and Yu Honglei—an otherwise unlikely assortment of artists—to collaborate with him on this exhibition. Together, they created artworks through choreographed acts of play, such as spending the day in silent communication or modeling clay while their hands were in constant contact. These ludic, chance-based actions provided a surprisingly convivial response to the question.

View of “Huge Character: Cooperation Project by Tang Maohong, Zhang Ding and Sun Xun,” 2011, ShanghART, Beijing.

10 “Huge Character: Cooperation Project by Tang Maohong, Zhang Ding, and Sun Xun” (ShanghART Beijing) For the first stage of this two-part exhibition, three artists collaborated to produce an installation of six large Chinese characters reading ARE YOU READY? The query reflects life in the global metropolis today: It’s not always what you’ve brought to the table, but whether you’re prepared for what might happen next. For the second stage, Sun Xun fashioned a vintage bomber, suspending it from the ceiling so it appeared to crash through the letters. But this isn’t just about end-time insinuations: Zhang Ding’s doorless octagonal baojian (the ubiquitous Chinese private dinner room) put a Sartrean twist on the business meal, and Tang Maohong’s murals of uniformed figures gave off a psychedelic vibe.

Lee Ambrozy is editor of, Artforum International’s Chinese-language website, and a lecturer at Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts. She recently edited and translated the book Ai Weiwei’s Blog (MIT Press, 2011).