Zhang Enli, Ding Yi & Kum Chi Keung

A launch party, private view or exhibition opening would (probably) not be the same without a glass of wine or fizz to accompany the event. I can remember talking to my friend ‘MK’ about the aesthetics of wine tasting at private views when he was studying his Masters in Fine Art in the UK. His year group were given a lecture from an academic who was researching this type of drinking culture in relation to contemporary art. If I was back in the UK I would go and find the paper, which is underneath the stairs in my house, so I could tell you who it was by. It sounds like valid research to me, and something that is not often thought about…does drinking wine at private views change your perception of the art you are viewing? An interesting discussion starting point…my words feel all over the place today.

My colleague and friend, Lisa Juen, had the very successful launch of her jewellery label ‘Proonk’ on Friday evening, but before the event took place we had to go and source wine, wine for drinking and wine for glühwein…yes, it is that time of year again. We ended up on a very high floor of an office block on Yan’an Lu in a secure unit haggling for bottles of cheap red wine (this was for glühwein). Cheap wine is hard to find in Shanghai, well good wine at a reasonable price is hard to find too! Whilst Lisa was negotiating, I had a peruse of what wines they had on display and came across a rather lovely editioned bottle of 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (shout out here to my friend Tom as it’s a personal favourite of his). Sadly, it was not for sale as it was a sample bottle for the company to try. There seemed to be a lot of half empty (or half full!) bottles of wine and spirits around the office that had already been sampled…some bottles looked particularly ambiguous with no real branded label, just a number. I liked this simplicity.

Straight after the wine purchase, I went onto Zhang Enli’s exhibition opening at the Shanghai Art Museum, where I was to meet the Director of the Shanghai Gallery of Art, Mathieu Borysevicz to discuss the Guangzhou Triennial 2012. The event was full of familiar faces from the contemporary Chinese art scene…almost too many, making the whole experience a little overwhelming as it was constant hello’s, double kisses and quick catch up conversations. Notice I’m not saying that much about the show…I’m not really a fan of Zhang Enli’s recent works. I had to leave quite early on to continue setting up for the ‘Proonk’ launch, so Mathieu decided to continue our chats at AIVA, which ended up being incredibly fruitful. Watch this space!

On Saturday evening is was the opening of Ding Yi’s exhibition ‘Specific Abstracted’ at Minsheng Art Museum. He is considered one of the pioneers of abstract painting in China, where this exhibition features 61 pieces of works created since 1986, among which 35 are paintings on canvas and 26 are works on paper. I prefer his newer black and white works on paper shown in the last image as there is something more personal about them, although the painting placed in the darkened space at the end of the gallery, presented like an altar piece in a church, also captured me…I think that is because of the way it is has been shown.

“Dynamic changes of the city are vividly captured in his painting. Nevertheless, it breaks through the framework of traditional narrative and represents life in an abstract way. The overtone of the signs he uses touches upon the correlation between human beings and the universe. ” – Minsheng Art Museum

Again, the entirety of the contemporary Chinese art world seemed to have turned up for the event…hello’s, double kisses and catch up conversations with Davide Quadrio, Francesca Dal Lago, Roberto Ceresia…the list goes on. All lovely creative souls. Jonathan Watkins, Director of the Ikon Gallery, UK, was in Shanghai for less than 24 hours. He exhibited Ding Yi back in 2005 with the show ‘Appearance of Crosses’, and come to think of it, also exhibited Zhang Enli back in 2009. Funny that…anyway I assisted Jonathan with the installation of the ‘Negotiations’ exhibition at the Today Art Museum, Beijing, at the end of last year so we reminisced about that period, and also spoke of his new role as curator of the Guangzhou Triennial, my involvement as a co-curator, and the possible collaboration with the Shanghai Gallery of Art. All very exciting developments that I can’t really talk about yet as so much is to be confirmed. It was great to talk to Jonathan on my side of the world.

At the event, I also chatted to Liu Yi, a renowned graphic designer here in Shanghai who was responsible for the exhibition design of Ding Yi’s show. He very kindly gave me a catalogue to take home. Lisa and I have chatted with Liu many times courtesy of another Chinese friend called Lisa who I originally met back in Birmingham. He has invited us all to his wedding on Friday, which I am very excited about! I am not to wear black…warm reds and pinks are recommended.

Finally, on Sunday evening, I went to the Leo Gallery on Ferguson Lane (off Wukang Lu) for the opening of Kum Chi Keung’s exhibition ‘Unfinished’. This artist was included as part of ‘Inside Out: New Chinese Art’, the seminal contemporary Chinese art exhibition organized by the Asia Society in 1998 that is one of my three PhD case studies, where Kum exhibited ‘Transition Space’ (1995). This artwork placed two bird cages apart from each other one representing Mainland China, the other Hong Kong. Five mechanical birds would fly from one bird-cage to another representing the five stars of China. At that time Hong Kong was to return back to China, but were the people ready to “fly” back to China? The cages and birds were placed above yellow mud further representing the land of China. Kum examined the consciousness and concern for national identity.

“I have set free some dozens of bird’s in this hall. Able to fly as they wish, some of the birds may choose the new room, while others may stick to their old places, as if they could not forget their original cosy nests.” – Kum Chi Keung

The artist was present at the private view that evening, so it was a perfect opportunity to collect further personal perspectives from the curatorial experience as part of ‘Inside Out’. He thought the information was translated well because of curator Gao Minglu, and as Gao Minglu had shown Kum’s works before, he already had a grounded understanding of his practice, therefore interpretive translation was a lot easier. I asked if his works today are better understood by the growing international audience and better translated by the international curators. He said because he has done many artworks in different countries, both he and they are getting more familiar with his work and therefore the meaning. Even though the conversation was brief, a few key points came out such as the importance of a culturally relevant curator who can understand the personal and artistic context of the artist to be exhibited.

The works on display at the Leo Gallery articulate the artist’s examination of the dynamics of urban lifestyle through elegant interpretations of the common birdcage….largely sculptural pieces in the show, including a site-specific bamboo exterior pathway attached to the side of the gallery. Leslie Kuo, Gallery Manager at the Leo Gallery, previously from New York, showed a lot of interest in my research so I hope to talk to her soon about its development. More openings to come this week…

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