SHANGHAI MUSEUM REVIEWS
BY NERINGA STOSKUTE


1. THE GELATINE GENERATION

ART LABOR
CURATOR MARTIN KEMBLE



Art Labor is an international contemporary gallery located in the former French concession district of Shanghai. The gallery’s main focus is works of art and design that have appeal in the wider international market, with a particular focus on the Western countries. The gallery was founded in 2005 by Martin Kemble, who is the head curator and manager of the commercial gallery. The gallery was founded with a vision of being purposefully different from other contemporary art galleries in Shanghai. Art Labor enjoys an internationally renowned reputation with a distinct focus on interesting and fresh programming.

Kemble is a strong headed and confident art dealer, who understands the international art market and approaches it with an individual agenda. Art Labor's main concern is for the art itself to be represented and promoted as opposed to the artist that created it. The gallery, however, focuses on equal and ethical representation of its artists. The gallery represents an equal proportion of Chinese and Western artists. Art Labor has been tactically placed in Shanghai as it is China’s centre for creative talent as well as one of the most powerful financial centres in the East. The gallery was one of the first independent art galleries to open in the French concession area of Shanghai.

Similarly to the gallery’s independent image, the artists represented by the gallery are expected to be individualistic, self-aware and self-sufficient. The lifestyle of a practising artist in China is completely different to one in Europe. The Chinese art focus is China itself, which makes some of the works controversial and interesting. Art Labor is curious about the new creative identity as well as the movement of contemporary art in China today. The gallery represents artists who work in a wide range of media. Most of the artists are graduates from the China Academy of Art (CAA) in Hangzhou, Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing or artists who are self-taught. The biggest problem with Chinese art education is that

students are expected to emulate the masters' work. Copying other artists' work is a common practise. However, the art academies are putting all efforts to overcome this problem in the 21st century. Thus the talent emerging from contemporary art schools is independent, challenging and innovative.
The exhibitions at Art Labor gallery always create a lot of interest and encourage debate about contemporary art and the role of the artist. Usually, the works on show are fresh and cutting-edge presenting raw talent for the Chinese and international art market. Art Labor caters for the next-trend seekers in its up-to-date original displays of the emerging, exceptional and eccentric young talent. As a result, the exhibition openings attract immense international attention. In addition, with a modifiable gallery space the Art Labor gallery lends itself to new and exciting ways of presenting international contemporary art. This element of the gallery's design is highly favoured by young and experimental artists as the space is remarkably flexible and versatile. The same could be said about the experienced gallery staff, especially Martin Kemble, who is highly approachable and professional.

Kemble speaks strongly of the community spirit and support from the neighbouring contemporary art galleries, which has become to be known as Central Galleries of Shanghai. Kemble confessed that gallery managers, curators and other head staff come together over informal dinners to discuss important and emerging issues in contemporary Chinese and international art world. This sense of a united artist community is unique to the art scene in China and has clearly influenced the way in which contemporary art galleries are run in the city. The main aim of Central Galleries of Shanghai is to cater for the international interest in contemporary Chinese art and, in addition, lead Shanghai towards a balanced international art market.


2. CAPITALIST SOCIETY WITHIN TRADITION

CONTRASTS GALLERY
CURATOR PEARL LAM



Contrasts Gallery lies in the cross streets between the commercial stretch of the Bund and the high- rising city centre of Shanghai. Run by Pearl Lam the gallery focuses on contemporary Chinese art and design. Founded in 1992 in Hong Kong, now the gallery is situated in Shanghai. There is a big contrast between the inside and the outside of the gallery. Outside are the busy backstreets of one of the largest cities in China and inside seems like a gallery space in London or New York.

Pearl Lam has created a strong image and brand for the gallery in an attempt to establish lasting connections between the East and West. In addition, the gallery’s philosophy is not to separate the disciplines of art and design. The Contrasts mission is reflected in a wide international programme, where Western artists are invited to set up residencies and produce work as well as participate in other creative events run by the gallery. It focuses not only on the commercial but also the educational aspects of exploring the contemporary Chinese as well as the international art market.

The current exhibition “Wu Ming", Form is Formless focuses on contemporary abstract Chinese art. In order to understand what abstract means in Chinese culture the curators had to research the abstract expressionism coming from America. China opened to the world in 1980’s and there was an immediate influx of Western thoughts and artistic movements in Chinese culture. Western texts, journals and philosophical books came to China. Places such as Boston, San Francisco and New York were highly influential. It was an exciting time for the Chinese designers to learn from the West. The artists were experimenting with techniques and materials. At the Chinese art academies the artists were trained in social realism, a realistic depiction of the society. Many of the artists, at this time, began to challenge their art education and moving into another level of imagination and representation. However, there are stark differences between Chinese and Western practise of abstract expressionism.

Western abstract expressionists managed to create an energy in their paintings which was assertive and extroverted. On the other hand, Chinese society is generally reserved and thus Chinese abstract art was introverted. Thus the viewer had to move beyond the colours and textures into the realm of thinking. This is where the beliefs of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism play an important role. Buddhism is the most important religion practised in modern China, as it was the main religion adopted by the monarchy. In Chinese culture Confucianist philosophy is used for everyday life: to deal with each other, to deal with family, how to work with society. Taoism crosses over into Buddhism, in a sense that a person allows the universe to fill them up. Buddhism allows you to connect yourself with your true being. These ideas are very important in Chinese lifestyle and thus influence Chinese contemporary art.

The Contrasts design gallery is a separate space where design and art merge together to form Design art. The Contrasts design space is predominantly a showroom for XYZ design group. Set up by Pearl Lam herself the XYZ designer’s mission is to create designs that are inclusive of art and thus create a new aesthetic that defines the dynamic changes of design today. This is evident in the innovative artistic use of industrial materials and the employment of traditional Chinese art and craft to express contemporary design ideas.

Contrasts gallery is a unique space that successfully engages with contemporary interdisciplinary practises in China and worldwide. The various disciplines are merged seamlessly creating a debate about contemporary creative practise. This approach has put Contrasts gallery firmly on the international art map as one of the most innovative and exciting spaces to exhibit and work in.


3. HOW TO MAKE BEAUTY STAY

DON GALLERY
CURATOR CHENG XIXING




Don Gallery, located in the former French concession, is focused on promoting contemporary Chinese and European art. There is a concrete difference between mid-century European architectural surroundings and street layouts of the neighbourhood and the gallery’s focus on contemporary art. The gallery’s operations. Cheng’s background is in Arts Administration and publishing, which lends itself to her main interests in drawing and photography. The gallery organises around 6 or 8 exhibitions a year along with public projects, such as Chinese and Belgian artist show in Shanghai Times Square.

Don Gallery mainly focuses on emerging and established fine artists and photographers, who are looking for a platform of representation. The primary focus is on Chinese or foreign artists, who live and work in Shanghai. The current exhibition is no different, with its main focus firmly rooted in the contemporary emerging Chinese artists. The exhibition focuses on the town of Xinzhuang, a district of Shanghai, where five young contemporary artists practise in a number of different mediums. The common link between five youths is their art class at the Academy of Fine Arts in Shanghai. After graduating the students founded a studio in Xinzhuang. The fast development of Chinese economy meant that their occupied studio was torn down. The group of artists separated although they kept on making art individually. Now five artists from the group present their recent paintings, sculptures, installations and video works.

These social and economic developments have inspired the Don Gallery to organise an exhibition highlighting the practise of young emerging artists and the lack of support towards their practise from the Chinese government. The comment made here is that the government is too concerned with elevating itself to the level of economy in the West that along the way they forget to treasure and nurture the heritage and emerging talent of the Chinese culture. This particular issue has struck a cord with the Shanghai creative community and various debates and opinions have been published, which in turn have encouraged visitor numbers of the gallery. The audiences have ranged from students to practising artists, journalists and collectors all with their individual strong views. The student visits are mainly conducted in order to learn the social commentary skills through the practise of art.

In addition to the gallery’s commitment to emerging talent from China, Xixing Cheng has already made her mark with exchange projects, most notable, between Cork, Ireland and Shanghai, China. Two of the artists participating in the show, Lu Tianyang and Zhang Yunyao, recently took part in a group exhibition in Ireland. In 2009 the Don Gallery opened the Festival of Irish Culture in Shanghai with an exhibition of Irish and Chinese photography. This connection has been made stronger through Don Gallery’s representation of Michael Ryan, an artist from Dublin, who moves his practise between Ireland and Shanghai. The gallery’s aim is to continue building these international links in order to establish for itself a strong commercial platform in an international art market.

Don Gallery has managed to find a perfect balance between showing Chinese and international contemporary art. They have established conversations and working relationships with many organisations within China as well as abroad. The balance between exhibitions that focus on Chinese or international artists is vital for success in a private and independent gallery. Xixing Cheng has a particular focus on the success and development of the Don Gallery and she is moving in the right direction to make it well-known and successful.


4. ACTIONS OF DYNAMISM

IFA GALLERY
CURATOR ZENG MELLUPE



Ifa Gallery was established in May 2006 in a converted textile factory space on Moganshan Road, the M50 Centre. M50 is Shanghai’s contemporary art district with galleries including ShanghART, island6, 1918, 97 building, etc. However, in September 2008 due to space constrictions Ifa relocated to new premises. The new gallery space is in a 1920's old British consulate offices. Since moving to the new premises ifa gallery has concentrated on promotion of the gallery itself and its represented artists at international art fairs. The gallery exhibits contemporary art from Asia with a focus on Chinese art.

The move from M50 provided ifa gallery with opportunities to establish creative dialogue with the local community. ifa gallery has a new mission of making a much needed creative contribution to the dynamism of the area. The gallery encourages public participation in performance art, cinema and music events. The new surroundings are also located in an area of Shanghai populated with artist studios thus the gallery has a direct connection with the Shanghai contemporary creative community.

The distinct asset of ifa is its presentation of different perspectives of Chinese art. Chinese art is clearly very different from Western art. Contemporary Chinese art reflects the Chinese culture and community, however this lies heavily in contrast to what the Western public want to see. Chinese art in the West is still perceived as drawing influences from poverty and suffering. ifa gallery aims to challenge this outdated view of Chinese art. The gallery represents Asian artists that have a unique and original approach to their practise. The main focus is on Asian art that has a strong focus on contemporary and does not respond to social or philosophical clichés. In addition, the gallery is also interested in Western art, which has a particular concern with or influences from Asia.

The current exhibition Bangbang & Blackandwhite shows the work of six artists, who work in a range of media including drawing, painting, ink work, photography and film. The uniting elements are the city of Chongqing and the artists’ heavy use of black and white spectrum in their works. Chongqing is a well-known town in west China. It is surrounded by naturally beautiful landscape yet the town has set a fast pace for future development. The artists of Chongqing draw inspiration from opposite settings – context and tradition. On one hand, urbanization has had a strong influence on the Chinese culture and thus the art it produces, and on the other hand, Chinese contemporary artists still work in a traditional style of art practice. It is clear that there have been influences from the West although the new generation of contemporary Chinese artists have developed a clear individual self-expressionist form of art, which sets it apart from Western aesthetic. Ifa gallery natures and explores different practices and views of contemporary Chinese art.

ifa gallery is an inspirational and innovative space. Although it attracts less visitors compared to its previous space in M50, which was mainly visited by art and design students or tourists, now in its new location, ifa gallery attracts more investors and buyers. This has had an influence on the international reputation of the gallery. ifa gallery participates in a large number of art fairs and is gradually becoming a influential participant of the international art market. Nonetheless, it seems that ifa has not forgotten where it has come from and has a strong focus on where it is heading in the future.

The director of Ifa Gallery, Alexis Kouzmine Karavaïeff, conceived an idea for the Shanghai Detour map in 2008. In addition, to a useful gallery and museum map of Shanghai Detour also provides information about up-coming gallery and exhibition openings, performances and other art, design and music related events. Shanghai Detour is a uniting element of the contemporary art community in Shanghai, which clearly demonstrates trust in the future of contemporary Chinese art.