Thursday, September 18, 2008

A closer look

I never realized contemporary art could be so disturbing. I've known it in the back of my mind but because I normally do not go out of my way to actually see it, I did not really understand its extent. Take Indian artist Suhasini Kejriwal's exhibit at the Shanghai Art Musuem for the 2008 Biennale for example. On the wall were desert lanscapes painted on canvases. In front of these canvases were fibre glass and metal sculptures of cacti. Since I was on a tight schedule, I just gave the piece a quick glance and took a brochure. The only thing I gleaned from that quick glance was that the desert landscapes were very vibrant and rich. The colors reminded me of Native American cloth work and the landscapes reminded me of the American southwest. I was surprised to find a piece that did not look like creepy contemporary art but also pleased. However, after reading the brochure I took, I suppose I can safely say that I should not be surprised. If I had taken the time to look at the landscapes more closely, I would have noticed that a lot of the plant life were actually human organs. On the brochure cover I was able to see the kidneys cleverly disguised as some kind of flower while the hearts were bushes growing out of the rock. Disturbing indeed.

However I noticed that not all the exhibits were disturbing. Take the exhibit on the second floor by an Italian artist. He had created a motorcycle and a typewritter with cardboard. There was also a piece by another European artist that caught my eye. At first glance it looked like a typical Chinese dress except blue instead of red. As I walked closer towards it, I realized that the dress was actually made of porcelain. The artist had cut a couple of tea sets/dishes and had strung them together with metal wire in the shape of the dress. Very cool. It reminded me of a dress an American singer had worn to the Grammies made completely with gold American Express credit cards.

The pieces were very unique and eyecatching but the most interesting part for me was the lecture we heard before we went to see the pieces. The lecturer, I do not remember her name, was telling us how contemporary art in China was becoming institutionalized. Since artists have to submit a request to have their art displayed, they eventually begin to create pieces in styles that the exhibition halls are willing to show. This limits what the artists really want to create. Since artists need to have their pieces exhibited as they are also people and they too need to eat, their art starts to look the same.

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