Wednesday, September 17, 2008

From The Ritz To The Rubble

Last weekend concluded the glamorous 2nd annual Sh Contemporary Art Fair, hosted here in Shanghai. Still a very young event, Sh Contemporary seems destined for success. Conceived by Lorenzo Rudolph, mastermind behind Art Basel and Art Basel Miami, Rudolph appears to have a knack for turning art fairs into high profile, world-class events. An art lover at heart, but a businessman by training, Rudolph has instantaneously marketed Sh Contemporary as a brand—and a popular one at that. Not to say that the onslaught of collectors, parties, and VIP events detract attention from the art. It is undoubtedly a wise career move for many artists and affords great exposure, providing the piece gets found in the labyrinth of an exhibition hall.

Lorenzo Rudolph seized the perfect opportunity to establish the first international art fair in Asia. The Chinese government saw the fair as an opportunity to broaden their cultural influence, collectors around the world seem to be drooling over contemporary Chinese art, and of course local galleries and artists were both clambering for international recognition. The fair was sure to be a hit.

The fundamental concept behind an elite art fair however, is to exhibit only the highest quality of work. But you have to wonder with all the attention put on commercial success, who is responsible for deeming certain art ‘of the highest quality’? Local curator, Biljana Ciric's recently published book Rejected Collection, provides a database of Chinese contemporary artists refused proposals. The book highlights the relationship between artist and art market. It questions the expectations of art institutions and the authenticity of contemporary Chinese works as pure expressions of artistic voice.

By no means does this represent the entirety of art in China. At the same time Sh Contemporary was in full swing, another show was on display just around the corner. Located in a Chinese housing complex, a group of a dozen friends have rented an apartment and set up site-specific installations based on their individual ideas of comfort. This group show called Comfortable, takes a much more personal approach to art and demonstrates the importance of home in a city full of skyscrapers and shopping malls.

So where exists the middle ground--an art institution that encourages creative experimentation and genuine expression, while providing the appropriate recognition and success for all parties. It sounds a little too good to be true, but maybe Lorenzo Rudolph is already hard at work on it.

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