- By Sophie Arni
Curated by Chen Zipeng and Cui Jie, this exhibition presents the final works of Beijing's Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) graduates. The curatorial premise is a dichotomy between East and West embedded in the art students' education, and thus their work. As the curatorial premise reads: "In today’s China, studying abroad is no longer the exclusive benefit of the upper class but becoming increasingly easier, even a necessity for many young artists." Indeed, the educational functionings of China versus the American-European model differ in their fundamental conception of artmaking: "the development of Chinese art has focused on inheriting the family tradition since the ancient time, and it is different for the western artists which mainly puts the mission on subverting the previous schools to create new art." It is all a question of standing before (avant) or behind (after) the garde. The work was fresh and felt relevant for a generation that grew up on the internet, letting their creativity flow beyond borders. This exhibition was in my eyes the most exciting installation in the middle of Shanghai's M50 cluster of galleries and artist studios.
Tao Xing took inspiration from neighboring Japan to paint Kabukicho, a reinterpretation of ukiyo-e classic portraits of geishas, perceivable through some sort of VHS tape-noise lines. In bright acrylic paint, the resulting painting shows a great mix of cross-geographical, cross-temporal and cross-media links. Zhang Ke took her inspiration from Germany, where she spent a semester away studying printing techniques in Goethe's motherland. She was inspired by Middle Ages illuminated manuscripts and the mysterious metaphors some Bible illustrations hold. Using female nude photography and Art Nouveau visuals instead of angels, trees, apples and other biblical figures which are typically seen on the corner of these types of pages, she makes a risky move. But can these pages really be called heretic iconography in 2017 Shanghai?
Finally, we turn the curators' works herself, Chen Zipeng who I had the chance to talk to at the gallery space. She produced two multi-media collages, cutting and pasting drawings unto hyper-trendy holographic surfaces. Holographic is the hottest new palette for our millennial Instagram generation, which can be seen everywhere from the backgrounds of DJ set flyers to the covers of best-selling make-up palettes. Zipeng was inspired by her own Chinese history for this body of work. Delving into 1930s Shanghai, she discovered the advertisements of the most famous cosmetic and medicinal brand of the time. She decided to recreate the ad for today's generation, depicting the cliche and orientalist portraits of beautiful Shanghainese women in tight silk Cheongsam dresses but with sad and wrinkled faces. 'Beautiful women are not always happy', the artist explains. Underneath, a banner explains all the ways that one can gain happiness. 'Love from family, Love from friends, Love for Nature... you can see all of it is about love, except this one: it reads Chanel Bag', Zipeng explains. I see what she means: in the middle of Kanji characters I can't decipher, I see one line that ends differently than all the other ones. Chanel bags stand for materiality. 'A lot of girls from my generation hold more value to material things than love sometimes', she says.