Wednesday, October 29, 2008

M50: Shanghai's Artist Community

I was really excited to go to M50 as it was one of the very first things listed in the "places to go" sheet we received during the first day of classes. My first impressions of M50 was that it was a very quaint neighborhood with soothing water rolling as I strolled inside. To the left were trendy cafes where one would take a break from popping in and out of the different varieties of art exhibits. In 2003, M50 itself was specially administered in this area by the government as a community for artists. And so while it felt a little out of place amidst the towering apartments in its surrounding area, it gave a visitor a feeling of being amongst where true artists work.

I remember Prof. taking, or rather, trying to take us to one of her favorite M50 artists only to find it closed. She mentioned how the artist was just waiting for someone to buy the space and he'd be gone, and it finally happened. It reminded me of what was discussed in some of the Midterm presentations about the commercialization of art and the amount of capital brought in by art is sometimes a greater influence for the artists than any other form of inspiration. Just seeing the empty studio, once filled with grand pictures of Buddha's, manifested the growing commercialization of art. It had the overtones of the BizArt presenter and his showing of "art for sale," which reminded me of United States' infamous Black Friday after Thanksgiving sales in which people go insane abusing their purchasing power on the sole basis of cost. These customers didn't go to the exhibits knowing what the products' use are, they simply know the products are "good value for the money" and that they are "good looking." Some only wanted the pieces of art as "home decorations." Most of the customers did not understand the art at all. Rather, it seems as if owning the piece of art would give them an air of superiority--of an elite taste.

On the topic of censorship, the BizArt presenter mentioned that art is commericialized also to avoid censorship by the government. Artists try to find ways to work around the censorship--both political and aesthetic. Obviously, this limits the artists in many ways to design artwork that is catered to the government's liking. The presenter noted that this censorship was good for healthy production of artowrk. I took this to mean that it gives artist's a sense of what kind of art they should be producing. Instead of laboring over something that was inspired by passion, they find themselves in a one way street. With a narrow and limited sense of inspiration, artists can do nothing more than regularly grind out pieces of eerily similar artwork. It is quite disheartening to hear about the true reality of art in Shanghai and the true extent of censorship that occurs. However, as the future is rapidly upon us it will be interesting to see how relaxed the leash on Shanghai artwork will unravel.

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