The conclusion considers the continued, widespread proliferation of the staid East-meets-West trope through a critique of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 2015 exhibition, “China: Through the Looking Glass.” Ruminating on the afterlives of East-meets-West exoticizations, the conclusion synthesizes the preceding ones by analyzing the exhibition’s loaded cross-cultural hybrids of art-fashion-celebrity culture and Sino-US corporate sponsorship. The chapter argues that “China: Through the Looking Glass” might have countered the critique that the exhibition did not adequately present contemporary Chinese culture by including some of the art and design projects presented throughout the book, summarizing the vital issues these projects raise.
Chapter 1 examines pastiche in the shopping mall and cultural heritage site Xintiandi before discussing the site’s buried modern art histories marred by cross-cultural conflicts. Xintiandi physically surrounds China’s first communist meeting site of 1921, today memorialized as a museum. The complex was designed with reference to the vernacular homes of its formerly foreign occupied French Concession setting, and it is officially celebrated for its “East-meets-West” and “Old-meets-New” architecture, even while the construction demolished most of the site’s existing homes and dislocated thousands of working-class residents. This chapter analyzes how Xintiandi’s seemingly benign East-meets-West façades mask collusions between the Chinese Communist Party’s autocratic state power and capitalist development while romanticizing Shanghai’s modern cosmopolitan legacy. The chapter analyzes examples of Xintiandi’s repressed cultural histories, including the revolutionary art and design experiments of Pang Xunqin, founder of the 1930s avant-garde collective The Storm Society; leftist writings and art promoted by Lu Xun; and the major Cultural Revolution–era debate sparked by Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1972 documentary Chung Kuo Cina. The chapter argues that the official admonishment of Shanghai-based cultural projects by Pang and Antonioni speak to collisions between Shanghai’s semi-colonial past, Maoist socialism, and Cultural Revolution–era totalitarianism that still resonate in Shanghai today.
Chapter 4 considers worlding, or the city’s positioning as a cosmopolitan center on an international stage, as a philosophical construct and tangible phenomenon tied to the development and promotion of present-day Shanghai and contemporary Chinese art. The chapter presents three Shanghai-based installations by transnational art stars Gu Wenda, Xu Bing, and Cai Guoqiang. Disrupting the East-meets-West soundbites surrounding discussions of these works, this chapter interrogates the artists’ privileged subject positions, arguing that such artworks function as branding campaigns that world Shanghai. The chapter also discusses the loaded cultural geographies of these installations’ shared sites: the Bund, once the heart of Shanghai’s British and US-controlled International Settlement; and the Pudong Skyline, considered the shining jewel of China’s post-socialist economic rise. The chapter concludes by discussing a more critical recent project by Cai Guoqiang that acknowledged the migrant labor fueling Shanghai’s urbanization in the face of the 2010 Shanghai World Expo; and a related urban intervention by artist Ai Weiwei.
The introduction argues that the global turn in contemporary art has been limited by overly generalized cultural categorizations and inadequate coverage of the local social, economic, political, and historical contexts of non-Western artworks. In response, the author posits an urban-focused, historically grounded, and theoretically rigorous model of disciplinary diversification that foregrounds key examples of art and design created in and about Shanghai. The city is described as an exemplary case study with which to localize global contemporary art, accounting for Shanghai’s longstanding “East-meets-West” mythology and genealogy stemming from its early twentieth-century semi-colonial past and radical transformation during the Cultural Revolution (1966–76). The introduction acknowledges how Republican Shanghai has been recognized by scholars as a modern cultural capital with its own unique Shanghai style, haipai (literally sea style), and proposes that we must also consider the city’s art and design of the 1990s–2000s, the period of Shanghai’s most rapid growth as an international financial and cultural capital.
Chapter 2 considers how Shanghai Tang, a Hong Kong-founded fashion brand, exploits Shanghai’s imagined cosmopolitan legacy towards the building of a multinational luxury brand. The author considers the rising political tensions between Hong Kong and Shanghai, as Hong Kong was handed over from British to mainland Chinese rule in 1997. The chapter discusses a 1997 Shanghai Tang advertisement featuring Chinese actress Gong Li, addressing how the image signals the return of class-based society while sanitizing mainland China’s immediate socialist past. This chapter also examines the powerful influence of Shanghai Tang’s founder, art collector Sir David Tang, on the international dissemination of contemporary Chinese art, exploring key Shanghainese painters promoted by Tang, including Yu Youhan, Wang Ziwei, and Ding Yi. Referencing these artists’ connections to Shanghai Tan and also the French fashion brand Christian Dior, the chapter theorizes the rise of a contemporary Chinese art/fashion system. The final section focuses on Shanghai-based sculptor Liu Jianhua, who has been supported by both Tang and Christian Dior, and the artist’s subversion of mainland China’s presumed role as “the factory of the world” through his ceramic-based practice.
Chapter two endeavours to define art amid a portmanteau—starting with
Jean-Luc Nancy’s understanding of art and the image in The Ground of the
Image, Bataille’s ideas concerning art as a rupture or fissure, Jean
Baudrillard’s Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?, and Paul Virilio’s
The Accident of Art—to understand better the accident, disappearance, and
destruction that art courts. Next, it proposes that through this art houses
a solvency—in a sense undoing, yet at the same time securing or making
fixed—as conflicting and resistant tendencies within the object formed. This
chapter also puts forward a correlation between Bataille and Virilio and
their ideas regarding the negative or reverse miracle (that they suggest
gives art its form), which is similarly made visible through loss or
Chapter one surveys examples from news articles, books, and exhibitions that
take the destruction of art as their starting point, and attempts to gather
these approaches and accounts as a framework for the book. Solvent form
looks to recent examples such as critic Jonathan Jones’s concept of a Museum
of Lost Art—a place where all the destroyed and lost artworks might
hang—poet Henri Lefebvre’s book The Missing Pieces, the Tate Modern’s recent
virtual exhibition Gallery of Lost Art, as well as literary parallels taken
from Tom McCarthy’s Remainder and Georges Perec’s character Bartlebooth in
Life A User’s Manual. From here, it considers Georges Bataille’s concept of
the negative miracle from The Accursed Share in relation to thoughts from
Giorgio Agamben and Paul Virilio, while providing examples such as Rachel
Whiteread’s House, Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing, and Jean
Tinguely’s Homage to New York.
Chapter three examines the notion of solvent form in more detail, in which
art—while attempting to make secure or fixed—simultaneously undoes and
destroys through its inception. This is examined through narratives such as
Sarah Winchester obsessively building the Winchester Mansion in San Jose,
California, or similarly as an object that Scheherazade attempts to hew with
her stories in One Thousand and One Nights—seen here as a method for
forestalling a verdict and extending her moments against foreclosure,
maintaining their permeability. Within this context, works such as Jeremy
Blake’s Winchester Trilogy, Urs Fischer’s untitled melting wax sculptures
from the Venice Biennale, Louise Bourgeois’s Couple II, examples from
contemporary art, and ideas from Agnes Martin’s writings are applied in
order to understand these solvent operations within art.
Solvent form examines the destruction of art—through objects that have been
destroyed (lost in fires, floods, vandalism, or similarly those artists that
actively court or represent this destruction, such as Gustav Metzger), but also
as a process within art that the object courts through form. In this manner,
Solvent form looks to events such as the Momart warehouse fire in 2004 as well
as the actions of art thief Stéphane Breitwieser in which the stolen work was
destroyed. Against this overlay, a tendency is mapped whereby individuals
attempt to conceptually gather these destroyed or lost objects, to somehow
recoup in their absence. From this vantage, Solvent form—hinging on the dual
meaning in the words solvent and solvency—proposes an idea of art as an attempt
to secure and fix, which correspondingly undoes and destroys through its
inception. It also weaves a narrative of art that intermingles with Jean
Baudrillard’s ideas on disappearance, Georges Bataille and Paul Virilio’s
negative or reverse miracle, Jean-Luc Nancy’s concept of the image (or imago as
votive that keeps present the past, yet also burns), and Giorgio Agamben’s
notion of art as an attempt to make the moment appear permeable. Likewise, it is
through these destructions that one might distinguish a solvency within art and
catch an operation in which something is made visible through these moments of
destruction when art’s metaphorical undoing emerges as oddly literal.