Friday, March 26, 2010

“Desserts” at Moca Shanghai

Christina Xiong

Title of Exhibition: “Desserts” at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)
Artist names: Zhou Tiehai

When I think of France, I think of not only its lavish and yet violent political history, but also its fashion, luxury and beauty, all of which are aspects its language and food – as the title of this exhibition suggests. The collection hosts about 400 pieces, all of which carry the deep-rooted cultural and historical past associated with the names of 12 desserts: “diplomat, juge, ministre, prof, commissaire, sycophante, caroleuse, blancheresse, financier, bouffon, chiffonnier and sabotajnik”. When I had first entered the museum, I was confused, struggling to find a connection between the chocolate tart and a courtroom of judges, or a strawberry mousse cake and bargirl. However, it soon made sense because Zhou, with his ironic approach and amusing displays, is stimulating our “intellectual appetite” by offering us a different perspective on the character of French culture.

I was interested in the way women were portrayed at various points in time, from a replica of Marie Antoinette, to a ballet dancer, bargirl at a nightclub, or a professional model. Although the pieces were not arranged in chronological order, I did notice that each new generation had a more “sophisticated” connotation. Traditionally, whereas men were the breadwinners of the family, women were used for marriage negotiations, selling their beauty for a climb up the social ladder. Marie Antoinette, who once said, “Let them eat cake”, is very much like the cakes next to her. She is covered up with make-up and “decorated” with extravagant dresses. Ultimately, her sex appeal is what upholds or what has become, her status. As a woman strives to create her own career, an attempt to free herself from the binding social norms, she, like the dancer spreading her arms out, may succeed. Nevertheless, it is still difficult to permanently escape from the perception of inferiority. Even the successful models (seen on next page), coated with vibrant and florid designs, are like edible desserts.

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