Thursday, April 05, 2007

Moganshan Lu: a spoonful of labyrinth, a cup 'n a half of madness, and just a pinch of Escher.

Perhaps I should have added the word "artists" to my title, but I figured since I already had the word madness I was close enough. I'll admit up front that I'm a true philistine when it comes to the visual art world - the Mona Lisa could printed on the back of a cereal box and in all honesty I probably wouldn't notice it. That said, I'm going to recount my experiences and try to tackle the all important topic of artists and their relationship to the immediate art community based on my observations wandering around Moganshan Lu.

For any as of yet unacquainted, Moganshan Lu is a road in Shanghai that has concentrations of "art establishments." Notice I used the word establishments: they are all essentially a mixture of businesses, galleries and studios as far as I can tell.

These gallery and business owners are all admittedly quite different in their purposes and consequently vary in the the type of artwork they solicit. Yet interestingly enough, the most common opinion shared between all was the difficulty in cooperating with government regulations and subsequent restrictions bestowed on all art galleries.

These restrictions are generally put in place when decency critics consider a piece to be overtly sexual or political. Interestingly enough, I couldn't help but remember when the Eastlink gallery told us the story about a special Zhu Yu (朱昱)exhibit in which Zhu Yu eats a dead fetus. I'm not sure how that made it past the censors, and that's not necessarily my point. The simple fact that this was allowed to happen while many other more mild works on Moganshan Lu have often been censored serves to raise the question as to just how much "decency" regulation has stiffled the Shanghainese art scene in general. I recall a conversation the director at the first gallery told us about just how often local officials step in to intervene in a gallery's exhibits and the often complicated chain of bribes that must take place to either allow foreign artists to exhibit their work or ward off a trail of decency critics if at all possible. With the exception of some of the restrictions I'd say this wouldn't surprise me if it happened worldwide - people all over the world generally don't respond well initially to art that upsets a narrow interpretation of the world and what's right/wrong. I'm actually reminded of the virgin mary with elephant dung exhibit in the states which was ultimately removed from its gallery for being overly offensive. So I'm certainly not blaming the government here as decency filtering in all likelihood happens everywhere to some extent.

I also remember that however closely knit a given concentration of artists may be, sometimes gallery's futures as questionable as is the case with the Shanghart gallery - the building itself might be sold to build a highrise. The underlying tension between soaring skyscrapers and the much smaller local galleries can be felt best at the island 6 gallery/workshop. Skyscrapers surround the small building like a pack of hungry wolves - though I don't think moving would be a terrible prospect for any given gallery except for the fact that it would disrupt the fluidity of the local art community if a skyscraper suddenly shot up like a weed from the ground in-between galleries. Let me know what you guys think about this.

(This image was taken from here)

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