Magical exhibition captures Shanghai's dual identity

Tan Weiyun
The various works by 13 Chinese contemporary artists are a demonstration of their unique interpretation of magic and modernity, mirroring the city's multifaceted character.
Tan Weiyun

The Space and Gallery Association Shanghai's latest exhibition, "Magical Modern," masterfully intertwines the enigmatic and the contemporary, capturing the essence of Shanghai's dual identity.

Curated by Bao Dong, it showcases the works of 13 Chinese contemporary artists: Du Kun, Huang Bingjie, Hu Xiangqian, Liu Zhan, Ma Ke, Ma Liang, Qiu Anxiong, Roxie Ren, Sun Liang, Tian Mu, Tong Kunniao, Wu Jian'an, and Zhao Bo. Each brings their unique interpretation of magic and modernity, mirroring Shanghai's multifaceted character.

This multifaceted character is also a metaphor for the complexity inherent in the art scene, embodying a convergence of contrasts: the interplay of Eastern and Western cultures, a dialogue between past and future, a combination of reality and dream and the coexistence of tradition with modernity.

Magical exhibition captures Shanghai's dual identity

"The Temple of Iggy" by Du Kun.

Oil painting "The Temple of Iggy" by Du is a striking fusion of natural landscape and human features. It integrates elements of traditional Chinese architecture into the facial features of rock legend Iggy Pop’s face. The forehead, cheeks, and chin are composed of tiered pagodas, ornate temples, and intricate pavilions typically found in historical Chinese constructions. These structures are meticulously detailed, with upturned eaves and golden accents that suggest a royal or sacred significance.

Where one would expect to see the eyes and nose, there are instead elaborate facades, with the balconies and windows forming the contours of the singer's rugged features. The central waterfall, which flows over his face like a veil of silk, originates from a grandiose temple at the peak, perhaps symbolizing a source of enlightenment or spiritual release.

This surreal amalgamation of human and architectural forms evokes the idea of a cultural deity, embodying both the rock star's towering presence in music and the grandeur of Chinese heritage. The golden hair, reminiscent of flowing drapery, further enhances the divine quality of the figure, while the mist and verdant foliage at the base anchor the scene firmly in the natural world.

The canvas becomes a space where East meets West, past meets present, and man intertwines with myth.

Magical exhibition captures Shanghai's dual identity

“Stump" by Huang Bingjie.

“Stump" by artist Huang resides in a delicate limbo between reality and dreams, an ambiguous zone she expertly navigates in her work.

The tree stump, a real entity that exists beneath her apartment, is presented in an almost human form, with knots and wood grain that resemble facial features, evoking a sense of living presence within the tree. The brushwork is soft yet deliberate, with the artist's strokes bringing out the texture of the bark, suggesting skin and sinew. The tones are muted, with earthy hues that seem to shift and play with the light in a way that is not entirely of this world.

There is an ethereal quality to the piece, as if the stump is not just a remnant of a tree, but a portal to an otherworldly experience. The surreal atmosphere she creates allows the viewer to question what is real and what is imagined, encouraging a deeper contemplation of the natural world and people’s perceptions of it.

Magical exhibition captures Shanghai's dual identity

"Rabbit" by Wu Jian'an.

"Rabbit" by Wu is a captivating fusion of traditional Chinese folk motifs with contemporary artistry. Wu, a pioneering figure among artists of the late 1980s and 1990s, brings folk elements into the realm of modern art, using them to construct complex, layered pieces that are both visually striking and deeply rooted in Chinese culture.

This particular work is an intricate interplay of paper-cut and watercolor, where Wu has drawn from the folkloric imagery of spirits and monsters common in Chinese mythology. Each element, though it may have a ghostly or fantastical appearance on its own, comes together to form the image of a rabbit. This isn't just a simple representation; it's imbued with mythological and shamanic significance, capturing a creature that is quintessentially Chinese in its essence.

The colors are vivid and mesmerizing, creating a sense of splendor and visual impact. Wu cleverly sidesteps this by delivering a work that is both powerful in its color scheme and sophisticated in its construction.

Date: through February 25

Venue: Space & Gallery Association (SGA) Shanghai

Address: 3/F, 3 Zhongshan Rd E1


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