Contemporary Art in Shanghai: 

Photo of Photo of Tang Zhigang ''Chinese Fairytlel"

Photo of Photo of Tang Zhigang ''Chinese Fairytlel"

The presence of the 2010 Expo and major semi-annual exhibitions opening in Sept. and october has Shanghai teeming with contemporary art. I have had the fortune to connect with a local contemporary art savant living in Shanghai named Rebecca Lin. Rebecca has helped me navigate this torrent of activity by recommending galleries and symposia that are presenting compelling work.

I have attended several openings, exhibitions, and art talks since I've arrived and the one that has stood out most for was a presentation given by renowned independent curator and art critic Manray Hsu.  His lecture was part of the 7th Asia-Eurpoe Art Camp called "moved, mutated and distributed identities," and focused on the topic of globalization and the idea of "Global Citizenship."  Manray presented artworks and questions for curators regarding the topic. He questioned how curators are addressing the issue of global citizenship while organizing events like Biennials. Manray asks: "How to bring a global currency such as a biennial to engage with a city," and "How to construct a new public in a biennial, a proposal for a new public?"  In addressing how the superstructures of art impact the individuals that comprise the "public,"  Manray begins to illuminate the importance and responsibility of both the curator and the artist within a global context.  It also illustrates the role the audience has in shaping the content of these exhibitions.

Selected artists and artworks referenced from the discussion: sasosedlacek.comtheyesmen.orgall-media. Other current and upcoming exhibtions in Shanghai: shcontemporarymocaShanghai, ShanghaiArtfair.


SH Contemporary Review : Re-Value

"Re-Value: The Construction and Consumption of Value in Contemporary Art is a conference hosted by UACC & ArtTactic in collaboration with ShContemporary. Split between two sessions, the seminar invites representatives from museums, art journals, foundations, auction houses and galleries to discuss the art system that constructs value from art;  and then invites collectors to discuss value from the other side – those who recognize and consume the value in art." (decription taken from SHC website 2010). 

Part 1- Construction of Value:

Speakers: Anna Waldmann (Consultant,The Sherman Foundation), Simon Groom (Director of Modern & Contemporary Art, National Galleries of Scotland), Shen Qibin  (Director, Zendai Himalayas Museum of Art), Lu Jie (Director, Long March Space & Foundation).

The first half of the conference dealt with the "Construction of Value." It was set up as a panel discussion where each panelist presented a perspective on the topic followed by dialog between panelists and a brief period for audience Q+A. The discussion began with Simon Grooms describing three aspects of value. He used three popular artists to illustrate his point. 

Financial Value: Grooms referenced the work For the love of God, by Damien Hirst. He said its iconic because of how much its worth (50 million pounds).

Aesthetic Value: Work of Olafur Eliasson: His work is meant to be spectacular and invoke the sublime.
Cultural Value :  Jeremy Diller:  photograph of the sport of gurning. This is art that seeks to connect with life. He ends his framework by stating that work with personal connotations has the most value.  Grooms used “Rosebud” from the film Citizen Kane as an example of the relationship that personal connection has to value.

The second speaker, Anders Peterson, presented a “quantitative approach” to the topic of value, but didn't give any numbers.  He present two pyramid diagrams that showed the institutions that influence the market. The first is based on a “western model” and was represented by this hierarchy: 1 ) Museums: as preservers, 2) Public Art Institutions: as promoters, 3) Private Collectors: as patrons, 4) Galleries: as commercial entities. The second hierarchy represents the developing Asian model: 1) Auction Houses, 2) Galleries Dealers, 3) Art Funds, 4) Private collectors , 5) Public art institution, 6Museums

He described the two basic factors in determining the quantitative value.  The first is the “symbolic value” which is based on the context that the work is coming from. It is also referred to as "fundamental" value and describes the conditions, whether favorable or unfavorable, in which the art exists. This is where the museums, critics, and collectors become the arbitrators and "taste makers" of contemporary art. 

The second is “economic value” must also have a fundamental value. The economic value is driven by whether the work is being shown, collected, traded etc.  Anders notes that China is currently in a place where the market is dictating the value since it has a weak infrastructure. He follow up by saying that this current state emphasizes the importance of having conversations about value.

Lu Jie gave his perspective on the subjectivity of the charts and suggested that both European markets and Asian markets are in flux and that the relationships between institutions are changing.  He says, the "political economics" of visual culture are ultimately influenced by a global market in flux with changing traditional systems.  Lu Jie also emphasized the idea that artists need to create momentum and energy for themselves in working with the whole are ecology.  He supported this sentiment by suggesting that artists should be working with the galleries and institutions to create and develop “value.” They should grow together. 

Part 2 - Consumption of Value:

Speakers: Sylvain Levy (collector - France, Founder of DSL Collection), Deddy Kusuma     (collector-Indonesia), Hallam Chow (collector-Hongkong, Founder of H2 Foundation for Art and Education), Qiao Zhibin (collector-Beijing), Gong Nana (collector - Beijing, Founder of UACC).

The second half of the conference dealt with the consumption of value and presented a panel of art collectors from both the east and the west.  Most of the time was spent looking at images and listening to collectors describe the works in their collection. Less time was spent actually talking about the methods or importance and role of collecting contemporary art.  Sylvain Levy gave the most insight into his own criteria for collecting.  He referenced this quote by Leo Castelli - “I try deliberately to detect the other thing.” Sylvain follows by saying that a good artist is someone who can move the emotion of thinking of an audience. Yes- it was that thin and mislead.

Most of the slides that were presented were painting. There were maybe 3 sculptures referenced and one installation.  During the Q+A  I asked these collectors what their thoughts were on the viability of collecting artworks that lay outside traditional forms.  I prefaced this by stating that contemporary art includes performance, sound, movement, video, installation, conceptual art etc.  There was an bit of an awkward silence after I asked my question.  I got the feeling that no one actually had an answer for the question.  Deddy Kusuma was the first to speak up.  He began by stating that he has something like seven hundred paintings and three hundred sculptures in a variety of styles.  He asked how he was supposed to collect installation. “Its is so big,” he said, “and video’s need to be shown in a dark room.” Kasuma chose the abvious targets for avoiding an actual consideration of the question. Gong Nana was a little more encouraging with his reply. He said that while it is difficult to buy or collect something like performance art it is still possible to sponsor and in fact, Nana had sponsored a recent Chinese performance art event.  It was clear that this room of collectors were not seriously looking at how to collect non-traditional forms of art.

(VIP lounge ShContemp., photo by Daniel S. DeLuca )

(VIP lounge ShContemp., photo by Daniel S. DeLuca )

It was an exciting proposition to have a chance to listen to such an esteemed panel of experts speak to the topic of value in art.  However, the discussions and presentations were far less enlightening than I expected they would be.  It was more of a basic overview that described the general territory and complexity of the art market.  China is clearly developing contemporary artwork with a limited infrastructure.  There wasn’t governmental support for contemporary art in Shanghai until 2003 (this is the same year they won the bid for the Expo).  Chinese citizens have limited experience with creativity in general having grown up through an educational system that emphasizes science and math and often excludes forms of personal expression.  This lack of education can make it difficult for the general public to access the work. In addition, issues of censorship  coupled with an art market that focuses on developing prices an not content means less opportunity for artists to create influential work. 

The conference preface made it seem like all of the secrets to the art market would be revealed. The feeling that I got was that it was essentially the secrets that drive the market and that to expose them would mean to lose the edge over a competitor or a loss of mystique in the eyes of the public. If the institutions are the “taste makers” and this unofficial accreditation of artwork is a driving factor in the value of  artworks then isn’t it in their best financial interest to maintain that influence?  When Simon Groom gave his perspective on the personal subjectivity in the defining of the value of art he prefaced it by saying that it was his personal opinion and not the official stance of the museum that he represents. This kind of side stepping fuels the stereotype that Simon himself said he felt was confining curators of contemporary art and that is, that the art world is comprised of an elite group of individuals.