Recently in these pages, artforum.com associate editor Dawn Chan argued that for many East Asian artists, success on the international exhibition circuit is contingent on their willingness to appeal to the “techno-Orientalist” fantasies of Western curators. Few artworks seem more indicative, if not outright parodic, of this predicament than Cao Fei’s RMB City, 2007–11, a floating island constructed in the simulated ocean expanses of Second Life. Much like the Panzani pasta ad that Roland Barthes decoded as connoting “Italianness,” renderings of RMB City abound with Sino-signifiers. A panda, a statue of Chairman Mao, and the CCTV tower all flit into view while Cao’s digital surrogate, China Tracy, acts as the city’s de facto spokesperson, travel agent, and real estate broker. It’s apparent enough how such a work could be instrumentalized as a biennial’s requisite emblem of the
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