Art, Architecture and Visual Culture

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Introduction

Locating global ­contemporary art in global China

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Jenny Lin

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.

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Series:

Jenny Lin

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.

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Jenny Lin

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.

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Series:

Jenny Lin

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.

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Epilogue

Forgotten corners

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Jenny Lin

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Series:

Jenny Lin

Chapter 3 investigates the turn of the twenty-first-century global expansion of Shanghai’s contemporary art vis-à-vis the first international iteration of China’s premier contemporary art event, the Chinese Communist Party-sponsored 2000 Shanghai. The chapter theorizes biennialization-as-banalization vis-à-vis contemporary exhibition practices and the promotion of contemporary Chinese art. The chapter argues that the Shanghai Biennial’s curators’ hopes of harnessing the spirit of Shanghai were ultimately supplanted by a generic brand of global contemporary art that neglected the city’s unique historical features and current concerns. This chapter then examines critical responses to the 2000 Shanghai Biennial and critiques of the global positioning of Shanghai’s contemporary art as seen in Ai Weiwei and Feng Boyi’s counter-exhibition “Fuck Off” and in two related works by artists Zhou Tiehai and Yang Fudong.

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Above sea

Contemporary art, urban culture, and the fashioning of global Shanghai

Series:

Jenny Lin

Shanghai, long known as mainland China’s most cosmopolitan metropolis, has recently re-emerged as a global capital. Above sea: Contemporary art, urban culture, and the fashioning of global Shanghai offers the first in-depth examination of turn of the twenty-first-century Shanghai-based art and design—from state-sponsored exhibitions to fashionable cultural complexes to cutting-edge films and installations. This book offers a counter-touristic view of one of the world’s fastest developing megacities, one that penetrates the contradictions and buried layers of specific locales and artifacts of visual culture. Informed by years of in-situ research, including interviews with artists and designers, the book looks beyond contemporary art’s global hype to reveal persistent socio-political tensions accompanying Shanghai’s explosive transitions from semi-colonial capitalism to Maoist socialism to Communist Party–sponsored capitalism. Analyses of exemplary design projects such as Xintiandi and Shanghai Tang and artworks by Liu Jianhua, Yang Fudong, Gu Wenda, and others reveal how Shanghai’s global aesthetics construct glamorizing artifices that mask historically rooted cross-cultural conflicts between vying notions of foreign-influenced modernity versus anti-colonialist nationalism, and the city’s repressed socialist past versus its consumerist present. The book focuses on Shanghai-based art and design from the 1990s–2000s, the decades of the city’s most rapid post-socialist development, while also attending to pivotal Republican and Mao-era examples. Challenging the “East-meets-West” clichés that characterize discussions of urban Shanghai and contemporary Chinese art, this book illuminates critical issues facing today’s artists, architects, and designers and provides an essential field guide for students of art, design, art history, urban studies, and Chinese culture.

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Jared Pappas-Kelley

In Chapter five, art is examined through the image of a house ravaged by fire, put forth by Giorgio Agamben’s The Man without Content and in relation to the destructions of art explored previously and the Momart Fire specifically (perhaps here made literal). It also builds on examples such as Thomas Hirschhorn’s work Crystal of Resistance and its accompanying texts, in order to understand an operation in art that is made visible through these events. It additionally returns to ideas from Tom McCarthy’s Remainder as well as Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain. Through these examples and events, one might begin to understand something more of art. In attempting to represent an affinity—to coax or draw it out—the text forms a portrait of sorts (in the Jean-Luc Nancy sense), and through it we might begin to see something that has disappeared through an operation of art.

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Jared Pappas-Kelley

Chapter four introduces the example of the Momart warehouse fire, in which large amounts of art—including high profile Young British Art—was destroyed when a thief apparently broke into an adjoining space and set the complex on fire. Works such as Tracey Emin’s Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995 (lost in the fire) are examined, as well as accounts of the public backlash and media attention surrounding this event. In addition, the implications of Jake and Dinos Chapman’s exact remake of Emin's piece as The Same Only Better are considered, along with the event's legacy and the expectation that these works of art will endure.

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Jared Pappas-Kelley

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.