Wednesday, September 17, 2008

What a difference a night made

On the Sunday morning of September 7th, after viewing Michael Lin's show and attending a dinner hosted by Shanghai Art Gallery for Lin's friends and collectors, I laid in bed paralyzed from a terrible food poisoning from Whampao club and started gathering my observations and experiences as to how I got myself into this terrible situation by going to an art show. I will share with you my observations, experiences and feelings of Shanghai's art scene, just as Michael Lin shared with us his experience moving to Shanghai.

After mingling around the Shanghai art scene throughout summer at MoCA (Museum of Contemporary Art), my initial interest in the art scene in China has shifted from focusing on the art to focusing on the people, the city and then the art. Shanghai prides itself as the commercial hub of the Middle Kingdom and it thrives on glitzy consumerism. As a business student, I like to observe the trends and fads of this materialistic city. Contemporary art is no doubt the current trend in town and a new event on people's agenda. Gallery and show openings have created a whole new social platform for the Shanghainese nouveau-riche to mingle with the artsy intellects. Nothing wrong with this except gallery/show openings in Shanghai seem to have a far more commercialized twist than artistic heartbeat. Using Michael Lin's exhibition as an example, I was there for few hour and I felt a little flustered and confused. For me, visiting galleries is a personal time, I like to have my own personal space and time to absorb and understand the artist's works and reflect on it. At Lin's opening, I was trying to go about my usual routine, scanning the exhibition, then reading the pamphlet, then scrutinizing each piece, then trying to absorb it all, but my routine was constantly interrupted by formal chitchats. Most conversations started with Lin's show yet swiftly changed to the next holiday plan, weekend plan, latest gossip and upcoming events. I also realized in Shanghai, if you are not somehow affiliated with the Chinese art scene, you tend to be snubbed and shun off. Those who already knew each other keep their conversations small and exclusive, unless you are introduced into the conversation, it is very hard to strike up random conversation with the people (however, do note that it is also a cultural factor). I have suffered my fair share of snubbing this summer. At many of these openings, we interns will somehow find each other in a sea of art collectors, artists, fashionistas and businessman, and will gather around in a corner exchanging experiences and opinions. Though it is still interesting but why can't we also hear from the artist and the gallery owners? If you approach them, they politely listen to your question before galloping off to the next collector/friend/artist.

Luckily this time at Lin's show, as his brother's friend & neighbor and former MoCA intern, I managed to get into this little circle. My night, as you might have guessed, turned out to be more of a social dinner than a show viewing. Nothing wrong catching up with old colleagues or exchanging the latest gossip, but deep down inside, I sometimes wish these events were more about the art and the artist's experience. These events are great places to network and meet people but it can also be awfully superficial. So I laid weak in bed wondering can the Shanghai art scene shed off its commercial side? But without this commercial drive, will Shanghai's art scene be as vibrant? Is it better to have people, who have no knowledge of art, come to support shows and fairs because it is a trend than to let the art scene be ignored and forgotten?
I still have yet to find that out.

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