Du Keke

Eric Baudelaire, The Ugly One, 2013, 35mm, color, sound, 101 minutes.

WHILE THIS YEAR, another wave of East Asian shows explored (Western) modernity—with terms such as Anthropocene, thingworld, and posthuman popping up in the titles and curatorial statements of various exhibitions—two large-scale prodemocracy protests in Taipei and Hong Kong, as well as escalating territorial disputes in the East China Sea, plainly prove that the mission Frantz Fanon set out for the third world in The Wretched of the Earth (1961):—“to resolve the problems to which Europe has not been able to find the answers”—is far from being fulfilled.

The 2014 Yokohama Triennale refrained from attempting to prove art’s relevance to current crises. Artistic director Yasumasa Morimura, himself an established photographer known for his self-portraits impersonating various public figures, gave the triennale a clear-cut structure: eleven chapters, each with a subplot addressing the common theme of “oblivion”—be it the anonymous, the censored, the silent, or the discarded. What might have been a staid combination of museum standards (by artists such as Kazimir Malevich, John Cage, and Agnes Martin) looked refreshingly undogmatic with Morimura’s distinctly personal touch. Eric Baudelaire’s film The Ugly One, 2013, written by legendary Japanese screenwriter Masao Adachi, was a highlight.

Elsewhere, Chinese painter Wang Yin also dealt with the theme of oblivion. Trained in set design in the 1980s, Wang has systematically traced the distortions and displacements that informed both the aesthetic experience of his generation and the modernization of visual language in China. In his recent solo show of paintings, Wang Yin” at Tang Contemporary Art, Wang continued exploring familiar themes such as folk art and representations of ethnicity, all via a Soviet-influenced realistic style, with a cohesive structure and an eerie sense of lucidity.

Looking back to the past as way of going forward has never been an option for the Shanghai-based artist Xu Zhen, whose acute connection to reality always leads him to take turn after surprising turn. His comprehensive midcareer survey Xu Zhen: A MadeIn Company Production” at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art marked the artist’s reincarnation as a subsidiary “brand” of MadeIn Company, set up by Xu in 2009 to replace his individual artistic identity. Mixing early landmark works such as Shouting, 1998, and Rainbow, 1999, with the newest MadeIn product lines arrayed in a symmetrical layout, Xu made UCCA’s Great Hall itself into a huge installation work, where Xu’s output could either be scrutinized as an artist’s multifaceted and restless oeuvre, or enjoyed as corporate product.

Du Keke is associate editor of and a PhD student in Japanese modern art at Musashino Art University, Tokyo.