Diary from China: Shanghai
Art Dubai’s Zain Masud is based in China this summer, for meetings with galleries, collectors, curators and artists, and to help further links between the UAE and the rich, complex art scenes of Beijing and Shanghai. Every Tuesday, she sends us text and photos describing her journey and experiences. ‘Diary from China: Shanghai’ takes in an opening at the Rockbund Art Museum, a reception with Budi Tek, and an exhibition at Leo Xu Projects, via a fabulous dinner hosted by Pearl Lam. Don’t miss Zain’s recommendations at the very end of this post and watch this space next Tuesday for a second diary post, from Beijing.
China’s got museums on the brain. Government is pushing soft power, building museums across the country, in most cases before collections have been built to display in them. China’s rank of uber-collectors have meanwhile stolen the show with ambitious museum plans that have the world enraptured. I went to Shanghai for the weekend to attend an opening at Rockbund Art Museum (RAM), Thomas Ou’s private space, and a press conference and signing ceremony for the Yuz Museum Shanghai and Long Art Museum which will open later this year. I wasn’t alone. The international art community, from Paris to New York, Taipei, Seoul, Milan to Doha seemed to converge, shaking up the quieter of China’s two art capitals and indicating things to come.
I took the fast train from Beijing through a stunning landscape of rice paddies, vast lotus ponds and terraced fields tended by farmers wearing coolie bamboo hats I thought were anachronisms that only existed in the Yahshao (fake) Market where I picked one up last year. Romantic idyll brusquely interrupted by industrial towns culminated in Shanghai’s unforgiving traffic but I just made it to RAM’s opening of Paola Pivi’s Share, But It’s Not Fair, the artist’s first show in China, curated by director Larys Frogier who took the helm of the museum earlier this year. Combining her signature pearl paintings and suspended lamps, three main installations over three floors of the museum create improbable spaces of ambiguity and experimentation. The opening drew a well heeled Shanghainese crowd, and at dinner hosted in honour of the show, a local and international group of collectors and practitioners that included gallerist Leo Xu, artist Gabriel Lester, Art Dubai gallerist Emmanuel Perrotin, SH Contemporary director Massimo Torrigiani and critic Mathieu Borysevicz.
Paola Pivi, installation view at Rockbund Art Museum
Budi Tek, the Shanghai based Indonesian collector who opened a space in Jakarta in 2008 is inaugurating a second, Yuz Museum Shanghai, next year. He and Wang Wei, who launches Long Art Museum in October, held a signing ceremony and press conference on Saturday to kick off of the West Bank Cultural Corridor. Tek will show both Chinese and Western work from his collection as part of a permanent display in an old aircraft hangar being redesigned by Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto, in addition to rotating exhibitions. The building will boast 8000 square meters of exhibition space and Tek has delineated plans for a sustainable collection system which will draw revenue from a variety of services offered on site. This may including a venue for concerts going forward and, we hear, even a wedding chapel designed by Belgian artist Wim Delvoye… I met Adel Abdessemed and David Zwirner director Ales Ortuzar who had flown in as Tek announced rather more concretely a show with the artist next year, setting the tone for his programming. Also present were Beijing dealer Jeremy Wingfield, Taipei collector Joseph Chen and Perrotin’s Hong Kong director Alice Lung. Champagne flowed, a traditional Chinese dancers performed and we wandered around a temporary exhibit. The reception was proceeded by an Indonesian feast at Tek’s offices. He advised me to indulge as he’d had all the ingredients specially flown over from Jakarta.
One feast begets another as I was invited to one of Shanghai gallerist Pearl Lam’s infamous dinners the same evening. I had heard about the porcelain hands posing a Buddha’s Mudra, designed to hold your plate up to you. The ostrich feather place mats, jade chopsticks embellished by pearls and jade plates with every course were an unanticipated bonus as was the colourful crowd. Seated opposite me at the runway of a table was a mysterious Chinese lady with all the mannerisms and accent of a Khaleejiya. It transpired that she was a long time resident and devotee of Doha who prefers travels in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait to Paris and may well have been a Gulfy in another life.
On Sunday I made my way to Leo Xu Projects down a narrow lane in the French Concession. The space is young, Leo opened in September, but his programme has been met with critical acclaim, steadily presenting some of the most exacting shows and pushing the envelop with international artists too (not so easy on mainland China). His current exhibition by Beijing based photographer, Chen Wei: More, is sharp. Probably the most rousing I have seen in my weeks in China. Less theatrical and narrative than the artist’s earlier work, it marks a shift in his practice towards the still life, through framed arrangements of banal, quotidian objects and scenes. Several series of unique polaroids that reveal the deliberate selection and evolutionary process of Chen Wei’s every composition, adorned the top floor space and were hard to tear away from.
Chen Wei, exhibition view, Leo Xu Projects
–I stayed at the Waterhouses on the bund, perfectly appointed rooms and great if you’re a Tom Dixon and Konstanin Grcic fan and like good yoghurt in the morning waterhouseshanghai.com
–Mia’s Yunnan Kitchen, 45 Anfu Lu in the French Concession. Yunnan province’s cuisine is lighter and herbier than most. They’re also big on unusual mushrooms.
–Right next door is Shanghai designer Jian Ping who have been developing a high end line of traditional Chinese clothing for over a decade but still don’t have a website. Incredible silks, cottons and cuts.
–Din Tai Fung, hotspot for Shanghai’s famous steamed dumplings the xiaolongbao. Branches all over the city and as far as Los Angeles.
–Jesse (Chinese name, Xinjishi), Tianping Lu, French Concession. I dragged my friends Nick Koenigsknecht, director at Peres Projects and Hannes Shroeder-Finckh of Sprueth Magers in Berlin—further random art bees who happen to be in China this Summer—to this no frills institution of Shanghainese cuisine. We had the famed fish head which was incredible…