Friday, October 17, 2008

Unity and Clarity (or Lack Thereof)

To me, the Biennial show was not exactly a show that was going to change the world--while there was certainly art of intrigue and value there, the show seemed to lack a raw power that can make an art show truly memorable.  Fundamentally, its ideas were good.  I think it's focus on the immigrant to Shanghai was a generally accessible theme, and it really showed in the diversity of the patronage.  As a representative overview of the Shanghai art scene, however, it seemed to fall short.  The video art was generally somewhat obtuse and difficult to follow, the sculpture was generally lacking in true connectivity with the viewer, and the paintings generally failed to establish a common thread or aesthetic to the theme of the show.
Mariana Castillo Deball's had two video exhibits in the same gallery at the show.  She is described by the curators as an artist who focuses her research on the archive of historical geography, where she creates a representation of the future by looking at representational systems of the past.  Her videos celebrated machinery and its role with man, but the films left me unmoved, as they were too long and visually unremarkable.  Neither video was given an isolated space in the gallery, and in the shadow of some visually striking sculpture beside them, the videos struggled to hold my interest.  
Rainer Ganahl's video art was, though somewhat one-dimensional, certainly a more successful piece.  His representation of crossing a Shanghai bridge on his bicycle before it opened to the public with two parallel videos of his journey from the rider's point of view created an interesting narrative, but the work was almost too abstract in concept, leaving it almost uncomfortably open to interpretation.  The government initially read the piece as a political commentary, though denied any political intentions to the piece.  Such a misunderstanding fundamentally illustrates the downfall of much of the art at the Biennial--a lack of clarity and focus.
Ricardo Basbaum's work was perhaps the most successful individual piece at the Biennial, as it successfully moved its viewers through space and illustrated the blurred relationship between self and others.  His work focused on creating awareness of potential forms of social awareness, which made for a dynamic piece that was far more clear and well conceived than many of the other pieces at the show.  By utilizing space and motion, the artist created a dynamic environment for the viewer.
Overall, I would say that the Biennial really strove to be accessible to the general public, outside of the literati and the common art circles.  I think it succeeded to some degree, as it did seem to attract a patronage that drew from many sects of society and has been phenomenally successful in terms of ticket sales.  But fundamentally, as a unified show, something was lacking.  I did not feel space flowed well from gallery to gallery, and individual works were not arranged in a way that was conducive to the theme or highlighted the strengths of each piece.  Certainly, based on some of the other shows and galleries I have seen in Shanghai, I left the show with a sense of disappointment and a distinct desire to have been left with something more memorable and powerful.

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