Certainly from my perspective, which has been limited almost exclusively to western traditions, it’s difficult for me at this stage to comment historically or contextually on the contemporary Shanghai art scene. I have spent countless hours in lecture halls and slide rooms learning the objective facts of thousands of works of western art, and it is an admitted departure for me to interact with a vibrant art community, departed from ivory tower intellectualism.
This past week, at the apartment exhibition Comfortable, I was able to experience a highly cultivated and manipulated treatment of space in the midst of gritty realism of urban Shanghai. Fundamentally, the installation left me with several impressions. Firstly, there was a definite effort paid to arranging the space in such a way that the viewer became particularly observant of his or her physical interaction with the space. When one entered the apartment, one first had to pass through a narrow hallway, condensing the group, before removing one’s shoes to both preserve the space and to create a more intimate interaction between the viewer and the exhibit. When one entered the space and moved to the room on the right, the tiles gave way under one’s weight, and to look out of the window in the room, one had to stand on a set of stairs, precariously placed on the loose tiles. Both manipulations of space create an increased awareness of the viewer’s movement and positioning. A similar tactic is used in the bedroom, as one must stand on the bed to view the pictures and words pasted on the wall.
The exhibit also left me with the impression of attention to the exterior neighborhood surrounding the apartment. Each window was left open, and the viewer was encouraged in the bedroom to peer through a telescope, voyeuristically placed so it focused on a neighbor’s window in the distance. In the room with tile floors, the stairs next to the window allowed the viewer to look farther out the window than if his or her feet were on the ground, thus allowing for a greater perspective on the neighborhood. Overall, it was a strong exhibit, particularly in its way to call attention to interactions between inhabitant and living space.
The Shanghai Art Fair was an entirely different experience. The focus of the fair was not only to present the art as aesthetically and culturally relevant, but also to market each piece as an item for sale for potential collectors, galleries, or museums. The art there could be classified by its pluralism: in one stall there may be a piece seemingly influenced by American abstract expressionism, in the stall next to that there may be a piece that draws from early European modern influences, in the stall next to that there may be a piece that is indebted to more contemporary forms of photo-realism. It was certainly valuable as a demonstration of the real world buying and selling of art, as well as providing a pluralistic view of contemporary art from Shanghai and around the world.