Beijing is home to the most internationally respected art institutions. They are scattered around town and more densely populate the infamous 798 commercial art zone and the more academic art locale Cao Changdi. Ranging from local mainland heavy weight Tang Contemporary to foreign run and owed Gallery Urs Meile, the Beijing art scene trumps that of Shanghai. One gallery comes to mind when Shanghai is mentioned and it is ShanghART and its director Lorenz Helbling.
Shi Qing, Factory, 2009
Lorenz Helbing is a bit of a legend in the Chinese contemporary art world. Swiss born and fluent in Chinese, he opened ShanghART in 1996. When the Chinese were just becoming interested in art, foreigners have already been collecting in a fury and what they have collected has come from Lorenz Helbling. He started the international careers of several of the biggest names in Chinese contemporary art, a perfect example is Zeng Fanzhi.
Hu Jieming, Altitude Zero, Interactive Video Installation, 2007
ShanghART has expanded over the years. They now have one space in Beijing’s Cao Changdi area and 3 large spaces in Shanghai. Most recently I visited their Taopu space that acts like a museum/storage facility. Although some of the works are showing their age, walking into ShanghART’s Taopu space is like walking into a Chinese contemporary art time capsule. Several important installations that have been featured in art fairs and biennales are all on view.
Xu Zhen, Dinosaurs, 2007
All good things come to an end. At the end of this month I will be leaving Beijing and will be based in the USA. I have been fortunate to see several amazing Chinese contemporary art exhibitions over the last 3 years and the development of the Beijing art scene. Thank you for reading.
This year Tang Contemporary has not spared any expense to wow the Chinese contemporary art scene. Their Beijing 798 space has consistently shown monumental works of art from their strong arsenal of gallery represented artists. Tang Contemporary is one of mainland China’s most influential galleries in terms of size, scope and international recognition. This April they opened their Hong Kong space. Now with galleries in Beijing, Hong Kong, and Bangkok they have a stronghold on the burgeoning Asian art market.
Main exhibition hall
Although many Western and Asian galleries have started to follow in the footsteps of Gagosian, White Cube, Galerie Perrotin, and Shanghai’s Pearl Lam many others are skeptical that the Hong Kong art market will actually be that lucrative. The ArtTactic Confidence Indicator states that the majority of experts remain optimistic towards the Chinese contemporary art market even though it seems like the rate of growth will be slowing down over the upcoming 6 months.
Sun Yuan & Peng Yu, HK Intervention, C-Print, 2009
Either way, Tang Contemporary has a unique footing in the Asian art market in addition to expanding their presence in Europe and America. This is a unique time in the Asian art world. The Huffington Post recently pointed out that for wealthy Chinese collecting art is not just an interest in diversifying assets away from cash or real estate to avoid inflation or economic fluctuations, there’s a growing status element to the art-collecting trend which is highly desirable.
Naoshima is a small island that lies in the Seto Inland Sea of southern Japan. Although hard to get to, art lovers from around the world venture to this distant local to stay at the Benesse House Museum. The museum has 10 rooms that guests can stay in. A perk of staying at the museum is that guests of the Benesse House can venture around the museum’s contemporary art collection after hours.
The famed Pumpkin by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama greets visitors
The development of the art island is supported by the Benesse Corporation, a Japanese company that specializes in test prep and language schools. The company’s chairman, billionaire art-lover Soichiro Fukutake, donated all the works on display at the Benesse House Museum and its grounds. He chose the Pritzker winner Japanese architect Tadao Ando to design the museum.
Cai Guo-Qiang’s outdoor installation Cultural Melting Bath
The Cultural Melting Bath can be enjoyed by hotel guests only. The hot tub is from the U.S.A. and the Taihu rocks are from China. The rocks are arranged according to the strict principles of Feng Shui. Hotel staff adds medicinal herbs to the water before guests take a dip.
Art House Project by Hiroshi Sugimoto
The island of Naoshima has hidden art projects scattered around the town mixed in between local residences. Famous Japanese and Western artists have taken traditional Japanese houses and turned them into contemporary Art House Projects. This art island is truly amazing and a dream come true for any art lover.
Tang Contemporary is always one of the major stops on a 798 art outing. This month is no exception. Famed artist Wang Du has built a massive Contemporary Art Museum of China within Tang Contemporary’s cavernous exhibition space.
Contemporary Art Museum of China
The gigantic aircraft carrier has been divided into four pieces. Each of the pieces are connected through passageways and bridges. Underneath the main body of the aircraft carrier is a complex underground system of art facilities.
inside of the aircraft carrier
To Wang Du an aircraft carrier has always been the symbol of a country’s military might. In June 2011 the People’s Liberation Army announced that China’s first aircraft carrier was under construction. Dismantling the war machine and creating a museum out of his hollowed remains is commentary on what the artist wishes China would focus on.
Something to do with Family, mixed media, 2012
The second room of Tang Contemporary’s exhibition space is a group show featuring several younger Chinese artists. The center installation is quite colorful and playful. It is in stark contrast to the main exhibition hall.
Galerie Urs Meilie current show The Nightmare is a strong critique on the immense pressures on Chinese children. Li Zhanyang, born in 1969 is a multi-media artist based in Chongqing and Beijing. He is an art professor and a father of a nine-year-old girl. Education has always been important in Chinese society but the recent rise of the economic prowess of China has created a monster out of the educational system.
Section of a wall installation
As a parent, Li Zhanyang draws inspiration from the school experiences of his daughter and her classmates. His two large scale installations that comment on the educational stresses and pressures give the audience a sense of fear and hopelessness. From a young age, Chinese children suffer under extreme pressures to prepare themselves for the Gaokao also known as the National College Entrance Examination. Their score on this one examination determines the child’s future.
Main exhibition room
Many believe that the Gaokao robs the children of their childhood. The education system in China puts all its emphasis on the Gao Kao which tests Math, English, Chinese as well as a chosen subject. Nothing else.
Beijing Art Now Gallery also known as BANG is one of the first galleries to get accepted into international top art fairs like Art Basel. Their unassuming gallery space is located in the red brick cluster that Ai Wei Wei designed in Cao Changdi. Born in 1983 in Harbin, Zheng Wei is quite the rebel and has a unique rock and roll twist to many of his mutli-media works. The exhibition is titled Die in 20XX.
Die in 20XX, Mixed Materials, 185×140cm, 2011
Zhang Wei graduated from the Central Academy of Fine Arts printmaking department. His printmaking background is evident in his body of work. Many of the 3 dimensional works are first carved out of wood then adorned with different materials such as metal, skeleton bones, ropes, razors, steel plates, guitar, resin, sawdust, cobbles, gym shoes and tapes.
Beautiful, Mixed Materials, 215×188cm, 2012
American music and pop culture has greatly influenced his works. The exhibition opens with this large mixed material work dedicated to new metal band Slipknot. The canvas has rusted razor blades that border the portrait of each of the bandmates. There are other works in the exhibition depicting The Sex Pistols and Slash.
2012.12.20, Mixed Materials, 122×120cm, 2012
The curator Huang Liaoyuan states:
Zheng Wei, a sluttish dressed man with an intellectual look, is a 100% beast in human dress with two faces in and outside.
Soka Art Center was founded in Tainan, Taiwan in 1992. It was one of the first art centers to dedicated itself to the promotion of Asian contemporary art. In 2001 the art center opened its Beijing space and started to work with the first generation of mainland Chinese artists such as famed Xu Beihong. In 2010, the Beijing space moved to the infamous 798 art district.
Zhao Guanghui, The Right Evolution Advice of Dragon Horse,
Mixed Media, 600×300×240cm, 2011
This exhibition focuses on Chinese artists in their 30s and 40s also knows as the Post-70s and Post-60s generation. The main room showcases Zhao Guanghui’s large dinosaur-esque installation. This work alone is a reason to visit this exhibition.
Xue Tao, Entwine, Newspaper, Iron Wire, Steel, 2007
Although some of their artists’ works are not refreshing or unique, Soka Art Center has done a great job promoting their artists. It is not easy to have a gallery history of over twenty years in Asia.
Iberia is one institution that is willing to push boundaries in the more and more commercial 798 art district. Bald Girls is a three woman show that boldly discusses feminism and gender identity in China. The three artists Li Xinmo, Xiao Lu and Jiny Lan proclaim that this is China’s first feminist art exhibition.
Image taken after all three artists shaved their heads at the exhibition opening. Their hair is in three clumps on the floor of the gallery.
Through a Western perspective, some of these artists’ works and performances might seen dated and not very revolutionary. That is because the West has gone through Women’s Liberation decades ago. China is still very backwards. Most recently, in April 2009, Hillary Clinton again condemned China for its implementation of forced abortion and forced sterilization.
Xiao Lu, The Flowers of Evil, Root of Ancient Camphor Tree, 2012
Although not all the works are controversial in nature, they examine the concept of feminism and sexuality within the Chinese patriarchal society. Herta Müller, winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize for literature has wrote a short story for this exhibition. She expresses her concern for the development of feminism in China.
Li Xinmo, Vagina’s Memory, photograph of a performance piece, 2008
The curator Juan Xu states that Bald Girls is more than an exhibition, it represents a fight against sexism. Let us hope that the people who see this exhibition retain some of its meaning. Iberia has taken a bold stance.
Sui Jianguo is China’s most prolific and respected sculptor. The critic Huang Zhuan states that Sui Jianguo is the Chinese sculptor who took the Conceptual route the earliest and the farthest. Although not called a retrospective, this exhibition showcases 30 works that have been made over the course of his career starting from 1987.
entrance to exhibition
The exhibition at PACE Beijing opened this weekend to throngs of people. Everyone in the Chinese art world came to pay respect to the famed artist who is also the head of the Department of Sculpture at the Central Academy of Fine Arts. Some noteworthy guests were fellow artists Xu Bing and Yue Minjun.
Earth Force, 1994
Each room of the exhibition is filled with Sui Jianguo’s signature works from different phases of his career. Earth Force is an installation of 20 boulders and took over two years to produce. With this piece Sui Jianguo begins his fascination with resistance and force.
Legacy Mantle, 1997
One of Sui Jianguo’s most iconic works is Legacy Mantle which is also known as Mao’s Jacket. This work has been exhibited around the world and has become a symbol for early Chinese contemporary art.
Gallery Yang impresses the art world yet again with their current show The Blank Left after Extraction. This time around seasoned artist Li Bo has transformed the Sanlitun gallery into a high-art torture chamber. Playing with motifs of earlier series, his new works are a breath of fresh air while still challenging the concepts of danger and safety.
Once known for his sexually explicit rope paintings of young Chinese women, Li Bo has disappeared from the Beijing art scene for the last two years. He has reemerged this year with conceptually stronger works showcasing a more mature Li Bo. The installation above takes up the whole back wall of the gallery. Li Bo juxtaposes a cross walk with an insane asylum bed. The work is almost like a collage, using ropes, syringes, oil paints and various other materials.
The rockstar, wild-child of the post-80s generation artists, Li Bo was once represented by Beijing Art Now Gallery but now works with a few select galleries in Asia and Europe. This large installation appears to be a human torture chamber. The pointy walls slowly move towards the center then back to the starting place. The sound of the movement is haunting yet serene.
The Blank Left after Extraction No.3, 160×240cm, 2011-2012
The work above is comprised of 16 pieces. The medium is unique: disposable syringes, resin, sand, rope and oil paints. Although this work is the most commercial in the exhibition, the unique materials used give it depth and edge. Not only does Li Bo deliver in this exhibition, Gallery Yang shows us yet again that the 798 Art District might not be the most important destination to see cutting edge contemporary art in Beijing.