Thursday, October 16, 2008

Once again, the 2008 Shanghai Biennial managed to stray far from my expectations. For a biennial show, I felt that the curators could have done a better job. The space had a horrible flow, and I felt a strong disconnect between each of the three major areas of the museum that were used. Possibly a function of seeing art in China, each area was loud and the echoes of endless chattering made it incredibly difficult to hear anything emanating from videos and installations. To me, these gaps in the curatorial work were a harsh reminder that while we might be seeing work from a wide range of work from international artists on contemporary issues, we are still in China, not Berlin or New York. Shanghai’s inexperience holding such an event showed, despite the presence of international curators as well as Chinese. In the third section of the show, somewhat cryptically entitled “Context”, viewers were supposed to get a feel for the global context of the work in previous two sections. However, by throwing a global, non-Shanghainese theme into the mix, it seems that the ideas behind the works themselves were completely forgotten in the organization of this floor. This is actually the section in which I found the work most appealing, but I felt like the international work was simply interspersed with Chinese artists in order to create an instant “international” feel. Many issues the works dealt with were incredibly seriously and I felt they only scratched the surface (thematically), when thinking of how to organize.
I found the topic of the Biennial to be rather unremarkable. It seemed, as a few have suggested, very convenient for China to present an exhibition about globalization and urbanization in the wake of the recent Olympic games and just as the Shanghai Expo 2010 is starting to pick up steam. I got the impression that the Biennial was simply a cultural attempt on China’s part to make a late entrance into the art world. Much of it, thematically, seemed desperate yet poorly conceived. Naturally, globalization, urbanization, and migration are hot topics in today’s world, but I felt it would have been better to have a less heavy-handed approach to the curation of the exhibition. Many of the works, notably of Western artists, spoke form themselves, and the sloppy curation was, as I previously mentioned, distracting. The result, unfortunately, of this smoke and mirrors attempt at interest in global issues, was not only the emphasis of China’s own cultural immaturity but the self-interest that has begun to pervade everything Chinese. The exhibition screamed “Not only are we fantastic gymnasts and athletes and musicians, but we’re just as cultured as Europe!” Not the case.
China would be better served, it seems, to admit its novice in this field and not overestimate its abilities. Culture of this sort cannot be created overnight, and I feel that unsuccessful attempts are more destructive to its image than they are positive. I have begun to discover that the concept of image and reputation in China is not only important but omnipresent, and this Biennial was no exception. China is aware that the world is watching, and somewhat like a child, is overly desperate to be praised and adored (and to reap the benefits of said adoration). This is also visible to me in the innumerable rip-offs of internationally renowned Chinese artists I have seen, even at galleries in Shanghai’s famous Moganshan. Sadly, the current domestic popularity of contemporary Chinese art stems from the Western acclaim and demand for this work. The market completely depends on the orientalist tendencies of Western buyers. Sadly, it is because of the western notion of exotic indulgence when buying or viewing Chinese art that the work and exhibitions are allowed to be sub par.

No comments: