Best of 2008: Robin Peckham


Lu Jie, No Foreigners Beyond This Point, 2006-08. Installation view, Guangdong Museum of Art, Guangzhou, 2008.

1. "Farewell to Post-Colonialism: The Third Guangzhou Triennial" (Guangdong Museum of Art, Guangzhou)
The art-going public has rightfully come to expect very little of large-scale exhibitions in Chinese museums, which tend to be evenly split between spectacular crowd-pleasers and dry Ministry of Culture grab-bags. Guangzhou, thankfully, has proven itself the exception that proves the rule with its attitude of “heaven is high and the emperor is far away.” This year’s well-curated Triennial included excellent work by Wu Shanzhuan, Zhu Yu, Christian Jankowski, China Sound Unit, and Duan Jianyu, and even managed to spark some critical discussion on China’s place in post-colonial discourse. Lu Jie seemed to sum it all up with a door that read simply: NO FOREIGNERS BEYOND THIS POINT.

Lin Yilin at Bar Metro on the evening of his Tang Contemporary opening, November 29, 2008.

2. Bar Metro (Beijing)
For years, the Beijing art scene frequented Eudora Station, a horrendously tacky and overpriced American bar and restaurant at the logistical heart of the art districts. Now, everyone has relocated to a horrendously tacky but affordable American pub down the street called Bar Metro. One of the first blessings of the economic crash, the exodus to the dimly lit dive bar will hopefully allow for conversations on topics other than cars, golf, and designer sales.

3. Yang Fudong, East of Que Village (ShanghART Gallery)
One of many recent large-scale video installations by Chinese artists, Yang Fudong’s East of Que Village is one of few that genuinely capitalizes on its medium. Opening during a week marred by tepid work at the Shanghai Biennale and the Shanghai art fairs, the piece proved to be a jarring meditation on the border between man and beast, willingly dominating viewers with the sheer terror of the real, and perhaps preparing us for the horrors of the rest of the week.

Watching the closing ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics at Homeshop, Beijing, August 24, 2008. Photo: Ren Jie.

4. Homeshop (Beijing)
A non-profit space-as-intervention inserted into the crumbling urban fabric of central Beijing, Homeshop played host to a range of sporadic activities during the Olympic summer: discussions, art object giveaways, and parties, to name a few. Admirable for its attempts to give art a home in the city proper, Beijing’s art crowd should be grateful for such forward attempts to enter the public consciousness in areas beyond 798 and the studio villages.

Guan Shi, 1000 KM, 2008, video installation. Installation view, Today Art Museum, Beijing.

5. "Map Games: Dynamics of Change" (Today Art Museum, Beijing)
Curated by Feng Boyi, Monica Piccioni, Rosario Scarpato, and Varvara Shavrova, this show at the Today Art Museum brought together a range of artists and architects for one of the few truly international exhibitions in Beijing this year. Bringing out the best in artists often unwilling to move beyond the borders of their narrow and established practices, this gem of a museum show included particularly impressive work by Wang Hui and Guan Shi. The former riffed on Beijing's geographic stasis by overlaying maps from various eras, while the latter set a timber from a traditional house afloat and showed a video of its voyage.

View of Gao Weigang, "Foreign Body," China Art Archives and Warehouse, Beijing, 2008.

6. Gao Weigang, Foreign Body (China Art Archives and Warehouse, Beijing)
In another curatorial success, Ai Weiwei managed to put together a debut show for an artist whose practice bears an almost eerie resemblance to his own. But regardless of how closely the curator guided the exhibition, the work has a distinct voice that speaks to the development of several new trends in conceptual painting, namely, a more subtle approach to two-dimensional work that shies away from strong iconicity. In a year dominated by easily digestible spectacles, the foreign bodies on view here were both refreshing and uncomfortable.

View of Patty Chang, "Touch Would," Arrow Factory, Beijing, 2008.

7. Patty Chang, Touch Would (Arrow Factory, Beijing)
Patty Chang animated this new alternative space buried in a residential hutong in central Beijing with her meditation on the slippages of translation, mediated through the figures of Anna May-Wong and Walter Benjamin. Taking advantage of a space seen differently, though always passively, through the eyes anyone who meanders by the storefront on their way to buy groceries or visit the nearby cafés, the show attracted an audience of vegetable-sellers, students, and tourists at all hours of the day.

8. "Invisible Art Exhibition" (Korean Cultural Center, Beijing)
Cultural exchange exhibitions rarely succeed, but this effort brought Chu Yun, Zhang Dali, and Yan Jun together with luminaries from the other side of the Yellow Sea in an amusing subversion of the spectacle. Highlights included Ryu Han-kil’s live music created with clockwork, a surprisingly humble Zhang Dali sketch, a microscopic world hidden under the walls, and the general feeling of confusion and excitement experienced by visitors attempting to guess which pieces of furniture in the reception hall were actually artworks.

James Powderly in Tian'anmen Square, Beijing, 2008.

9. Arrest of James Powderly
During the Olympic summer, artist and activist James Powderly, ringleader of respected American new media group Graffiti Research Labs, was arrested while planning an attempt to project laser graffiti in downtown Beijing. Motivated by his exclusion from the state-sponsored new media exhibition at the National Art Museum of China, the failed attempt speaks powerfully to political miscommunication and the growing irrelevance of political art in China.

View of Qiu Anxiong, "We Are the World," Shanghai, 2008.

10. Qiu Anxiong, We Are the World (Shanghai)
If 2008 was a year marked more by curatorial triumphs and infrastructural realignments than by work that stands on its own, Qiu Anxiong's biennale-week exhibition, held in a Shanghai warehouse rented by Pearl Lam's Contrasts Gallery, is exemplary. Organizing a range of artists, musicians, and writers to voice their reactions to French artist Aurèle's alleged bamboozling of his Chinese suppliers (of dog sculptures), the show managed to transform itself into a party (of sorts) in the uncomfortable space between vocal patriotism and economic crisis. Growing out of questionably cosmopolitan ideals, the show generated a productive dialogue that moved against all odds into the frightening space beyond the boundaries of the art world.

Robin Peckham is a writer and communications director at Boers-Li Gallery, Beijing.

— 文/ Robin Peckham

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