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Art in Shanghai

Art in Shanghai Photograph Seamus Berkeley

The Shanghai Art Museum was the first museum I visited in Shanghai. The Museum was hosting the fifth biannale this year. I went to the opening night celebration only to find that it required an invitation. Since I had traveled some distance to attend it, I decided it was worth effort to enquire if they had an invitation for me. I asked a few of the attendants for an invitation. After a few minutes wait, one of them lead me to the entry gate, gave me a tag and invited me to enter.

The opening night coincided with the full moon and was held outside in a park adjoining the museum.
It was an international event and the crowd was thick and well dressed. The show was a video and performance affair and included a floating astronaut, live music, and video installations.


The video installations appeared in various configurations including large scale moving boxes and tall towers as in the photograph above. (Yes, that is a billboard for ‘Lord of the Rings’ in Chinese in the background.) The museum did well in putting on an interesting event for the international crowd living and visiting Shanghai.

The rest of the show, held inside the museum, continued its international flavor and included recognized names such as Yoko Ono and Cindy Sherman. Most of the work here was photographic, including the work of Sherman, which in this case were images of her as clowns.

The next museum visit was to the Shanghai Museum (different then the Shanghai Art Museum.) This museum was much more traditional and included more historic work from Chinese artists and artisans. In addition to pen and ink work, there were displays of furniture, carving and regional dress. The paintings were the most impressively displayed of any museum. As the viewer approaches each work behind glass, automatic lights turn up and then dim after the viewer walks away. The whole museum was impeccably maintained.

There were other shows of contemporary work that I visited. One area in particular was the Suzhou Creek area. Work here was also multi-media, video and installation. To be honest, I found most of this to be unimpressive. As I understand it, one reason for moving away from classical painting is because it is old, and that there is nothing new to explore in traditional methods. The problem is, now, what was new has become old; what was original has become now trite. Hanging beads or boxes with lamps and bulbs, slide show projectors with fast moving imagery, video clips of odd scenes with women in various stages of undress, has all become as ‘worn out’ as what proponents of ‘modern’ art want to escape. For me, there is still much more to explore in traditional approaches to art and painting. And, it takes more than just a clever idea to create interesting and expressive paintings in this manner.

Next: Teaching at the Shanghai American School

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