September 2003

In Shanghai, some 300 works from 20 countries, assembled by six curators, constituted a hodge-podge of conflicting agendas reflecting the complexity of 21st-century social and artistic transformations.

(excerpt)...Nevertheless, Shanghai galleries and alternative spaces continued more-or-less normal programming. One could see worksite photographs by Yang Yong at Eastlink Gallery, a multiple-self-portrait digital print by Shi Yong in a hanging with other gallery artists at Shanghart Warehouse, or Hong Lei's famous dead-bird photo, Dusk in the Forbidden City, at Aura Gallery. But the liveliest show in town to pass muster with the authorities was at the alternative space ddmwarehouse. Among the hightlights of the 10-artist exhibition there were a crawl-through ceiling tunnel by Ward Shelley with interior paintings by Zhao Gang, and Zi Wei Wang's peephole box with instructional diagrams on the best way to commit suicide with a handgun (shades of Damien Hirst's how-to video). Zhao Liang presented two very different works: one, a floor piece with narcissus and garlic bulbs lined up on facing halves of an illuminated platform; the other, appropriately titled Mess, a glass booth in which a suit filled with small explosives and fake blood pellets went off in a shattering, audience-threatening “performance”

  reminiscent of the climax of Bonnie and Clyde. Yang Maoyuan commanded attention more quietly-with an enormous ball covered in horsehide and sporting a horse head and tail, and two smaller but equally bloated blue-dyed sheep turning on pedestals. American-born artist Emily Cheng contributed two colorful wall paintings, one of which-incorporating stacked aureole forms-served as background for a series of photohandgun (shades of Damien Hirst's how-to video). Zhao Liang presented two very different works: one, a floor piece with narcissus and garlic bulbs lined up on facing   portraits of gallery visitors cast, serendipitously, as enlightened beings. (Many of the images are now incorporated in a Web-movie at emily/indey-litral.) The irony of the situation-Cheng, a New Yorker of Chinese descent, and Zhao Gang, a Chinese expatriate living in Harlem, were the only artists in the show to use traditional Eastern motifsindicates the thoroughness of Western avant-garde influence on the Chinese scene today. For better or for worse, practitioners in Guangzhou, Beijing, Shanghai and other major centers have joined the global, monocultural art discourse-with one important motivational difference. They are joining it long after the original avant-garde revolt, after the failure of Communism, after the worldwide burgeoning of consumerism.
Thus these artists are able to see in a flash what their Western peers, long accustomed to material comfort and befuddled for decades by guilt-inducing, quasisocialist Continental theory, have been largely blind to. They recognize the profound link between the modernist imperative to "make it new" and the entrepreneurial drive to supply ever-fresh products to an ever-expanding market. They have not simply forgotten Foucault, as Baudrillard urged, but-better-forgotten Mark, too.