Thursday, April 07, 2011

M50 on Moganshan Lu is an impressive collection of a wide variety of galleries and exhibitions. The location has a very industrial, minimalist feel, with most areas consisting of exposed concrete and metal. The galleries themselves are similarly bare, with paintings and statues scattered about drab, bleak environment. In a way, this helps the works of art pop out from their surroundings, but some of the galleries strived to give their space a unique feel. Vanguard is one such gallery, and they broke their space up into two sections. The first section has large black and white paintings by Sun Xun depicting surreal scenes from ancient China. These scenes were painted directly onto the wall, as evidenced by the black streaks of paint dried upon the wall. Within the paintings, wild animals run free and villagers seem perplexed by a fish with legs, among other oddities. Behind a black curtain, the gallery presents Sun Xun’s “Clown’s Revolution,” an experimental film depicting mosquitoes, faces, vultures, and other surrealist, avant-garde imagery.

The thing I noticed about many of the galleries we went to is you really need to be familiar with quite a few things to understand the full extent of the artist’s message. It is not even enough to be deeply familiar with Chinese history; one needs to understand the struggles of contemporary China, the history of modern art in China, and the individual artist’s previous work. Ultimately, perhaps ironically, amidst all the thought-provoking art within M50, the pieces that excited me the most were the street art on a lengthy wall on Moganshan Lu. These pieces of street art and graffiti are fully representative of the Chinese artists who painted them, and are presented outside, for all to see, whenever they’d like. These vibrant pieces are not up to sale, most don’t have a name attached, and exist solely to present a message. Meanwhile, a few of M50’s artists seem to be trying too hard to be avant-garde, and create a single motif they riff on over and over. Their art is commercial by nature, and many pieces just wash over the viewer. Perhaps there is a message in that, but as one not familiar with the Chinese modern art world, it comes off as pretentious and misguided. In any case, M50 presents a large number of striking, impressive works, and it is a highly recommended stop to any visitor to Shanghai.

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