Thursday, August 13, 2009

Shanghai Social Diary

Yoko Ono's first trip to China.
by Jeanne Lawrence

When I moved to Shanghai last year to immerse myself in this emerging county’s culture, naturally art was on my agenda. Here are a few of the art scene highlights of the year.

Yoko Ono’s First Time in China

Yoko danced to her own music at Ke Center.
One of the most highly-anticipated art events in Shanghai was the arrival of New York-based artist Yoko Ono. The widow of John Lennon exhibited her work at the Ke Center for the Contemporary Art, dedicated to the visual and performing arts.

Not only was this her first solo retrospective exhibition in China; it was also her first trip to China. Now 75, the controversial avant-garde artist conceptualized and curated her own show, “Yoko Ono: Fly.” The exhibition included works from Ono’s 50 years as an artist.

The Ke art complex was overflowing with eager spectators despite the torrential, pounding rainstorm. My friends and I happily huddled under umbrellas, standing in line to see this icon.

We watched Ono on the large overhead screen, sending her message of love and peace. Neither the long wait nor the rain dampened the festive mood of this crowd.

Who knew that such a large crowd, including so many born long after the Beatles first performed and so far away, would turn out for Yoko Ono?
Ono made a rare press conference appearance.
Director Gunnar Kvaran of Oslo’s Astrup Museum was an organizer. Yann de Montby and Max Berko from the art world.
Waiting to see Yoko Ono in the rainstorm.
Rapt attention for Ono's big screen video.
Ono delivers her message of love and peace.
Art Dealer Liu Ying Mei and Zhaojing Huang. Art Curator Defne Ayas with Art Critic Lisa Movius.
Journalist Philip Tinari and Artist Zhang Enli.
David Chan, a gallery director, seeks shelter from the rain.
A VIP afterparty at the private KEE Club with artist Zhou Tiehai and Liang Shao Ji.
New York Gallery Launched a Shanghai Branch

The James Cohan Gallery became the first New York-based gallery to open in Shanghai. It was a bold move by Gallery Director Arthur Solway, and the local community welcomed and applauded him when he opened the doors last summer.

“I came to Shanghai,” my dear friend Arthur told me, “because I want to be in the front row watching a developing nation. I love it here.” He hopes to expand the audience in China for contemporary art, focusing on established international artists.

A typical Shanghai scene - the neighbors’ laundry.
When I paid my first visit to the gallery as a newcomer to Shanghai, I was surprised. This would be the home of an internationally known gallery?

Although located in the desirable former French Concession district, it was not on a main street or in a ritzy neighborhood. Instead, one approached it down a “lane”—at home, we’d call it an alley—lined with houses badly in need of paint. The next-door neighbor’s laundry was hanging outside.

But, once I entered, I realized that Arthur had made a brilliant choice. The historic building is a superb example of 1930’s architecture and its 3,000-square foot ground-floor gallery opens onto a charming private garden.

With the patina of age and Art Deco detailing intact, this is the type of place foreigners drool over—including me, now that I’ve become acquainted with the area. It’s an authentic neighborhood, populated by a mix of locals and foreigners. (I’d move in tomorrow, if I could!)

We all hope that the Shanghai government will continue to preserve more of these historic gems in a city that’s generally focused on being new and modern and tearing down much of the old in the process.

The opening for this summer’s exhibit, “The Tree,” attracted the biggest crowd to date. “The show was inspired by the many plane trees that line Shanghai streets. They provide shade and shadow and change with the season,” Arthur explained.

Arthur and I, Mina Tenison, and Susan and Jack Lee hosted an opening night garden party to say “Zai Jian” (Good-Bye in Mandarin) to our friends before they left Shanghai for their summer vacations.

The gods were with us that night, as the heavy rains stopped promptly at 6, when the party began—a very good omen for Arthur’s future success in the art world here.
The James Cohen Gallery is in a l930’s garden villa.
A rare find - a private garden.
Gallery owner Jim Cohan with Sunhee Kim.
Shanghai Director Arthur Solway of James Cohan Gallery. Stephanie Lawrence and Ian Rountree study Mandarin in Shanghai.
Inaugural Exhibition - Neighbors bring family and friends.
Shanghai art lovers are curious about the gallery's arrival.
Lisa Movius, Sophie Petersen, Defne Ayas and Michelle Blumenthal, the art crowd.
David Chan, Phillip Tinari, and Luluc Huang.
Guests enjoy the garden for the first opening exhibition.
Second Exhibition. Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare, MBE. Shonibare work explores African identity and European colonialism.
Third exhibition. Dutch Artist Folkert de Jong’s commissioned works.
Elyse Goldberg, director of New York's James Cohan Gallery. Fashion designer Han Feng.
Liu Ying Mei, director of 140 sqm Gallery.
William Handbury-Tenison and son Alexander. Artist Zhou Tiehai and me.
Artist Folkert de Jong, Dutch Deputy Consul General Leo Linscheer, and Astrid Honold.
Fourth Exhibition. Anselm Kiefer’s “Palm Stem.” Bill Viola's “Study for Emergence.”
Artist Xu Zhen's “House of Cards,” in the shape of Tibet's Portola Palace.
Fifth Exhibition. “The Tree,” followed by a garden party.
Director Arthur Solway co-hosted the event (photo by Francisco Martin). Mina Tenison and I were also co-hosts of the garden party.
Susan and Jack Lee shared hosting as well.
The Borysevicz's family.
A San Diego reunion. C. Y. Lai, Jeanne Lawrence, and Etran and Barry McComic.
Looking at Guo Hongwei's work.
A Crash Course in Chinese Contemporary Art

Of course, I was curious about the Chinese contemporary art scene. Its rapid and dynamic emergence has been a major international art world story.

Some of the astute collectors who helped drive the action were Charles Saatchi, the British advertising tycoon; Gay and Myriam Ullens, the Belgian industrialist and his wife; and former Swiss Ambassador Uli Sigg.

Beijing-based artist Zeng Fanzhi set a record for Chinese contemporary painting when his “Mask Series 1996 No. 6” sold for $9.7 million in May 2008 at Christie’s auction in Hong Kong

Recently, I dined with David Barboza, the Shanghai-based New York Times correspondent, and his wife Lynn Zhang, who has her own art website Of course, we discussed his recent article, “China’s Art Market: Cold or Maybe Hibernating?” which speculated about the future of high-priced Chinese contemporary art.
The glorious view from our Contemporary Chinese Art course classroom.
Though the pace may have been slowed by the global meltdown, I think Chinese art will continue to build an audience. One indication that the market will remain healthy is that New York’s Acquavella Galleries gave Fanzhi his first solo exhibition in the United States this spring, and from what I hear, the majority of his paintings were sold.

But it’s not only the prices that interest me: it’s the art and the art scene, and I wanted to learn more about it.

Although in the 90s, I’d taken a fantastic graduate course in traditional Chinese art at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, I didn’t know much about contemporary Chinese art. It didn’t help that I didn’t know how to pronounce the Chinese artists’ names! Now I do!

Pippa Dennis and Maria Turke created the Forum to explore the Chinese art world.
So I was excited when I heard about an eight week course—in English – called the Asian Art Forum. Its goal was to give an analytical assessment of the emergence and historical development of Chinese contemporary art.

The course was “produced” by Pippa Dennis and Maria Turke in partnership with Defne Ayas and Davide Quadrio, founders of ArtHub, a non-profit foundation to support young Asian artists.

The lecturers were star curators and critics who have been personally involved in this dynamic and unprecedented period of Chinese art history, including Karen Smith, Binghui Huangfu, Michelle Blumenthal, Philip Tinari, Davide Quadrio, Jeremy Wingfield, William Hanbury-Tenison and Defne Ayas.

They gave us an insightful overview, covering the key movements, specific groups and significant exhibitions from l978 to the present. Though so much information can be slightly overwhelming, I loved the intensity of the courses and taking field trips to learn on location.

Our eclectic group of classmates and speakers—from England, Holland, German, South Africa, the U.S. and China—bonded quickly. With art prices spiraling downwards, several of us even discussed starting our own fund to go art-bargain-hunting as an investment strategy.

When we “graduated,” we happily bonded even more when ArtHub treated us to Rose Petal Cocktails and Pear and Lychee Martinis and, of course, Tsing Tao lager at the swanky Glamour Bar.

(If you would like to know more about the Shanghai art scene, click here for my previous posting.)
We met at Art Dealer Pearl Lam’s Contrasts Gallery.
We took a field trip to Moganshan 50, one of Shanghai’s art district, aka M50.
A former warehouse and textile mill, M50 is now home to galleries, cafes, and shops.
The M97 Gallery exhibits contemporary and fine art photography.
M97 featured Zeng Han, whose work was recently shown at California’s Laguna Art Museum.
Pippa Dennis with Eastlink Gallery Director Li Lang in front of a painting by Yang Zhichao.
In Eastlink Gallery -- Huang Yan’s “Chinese Landscape-Tattoo” and a sculpture by Yu Fan. Lorenz Helbling, director of ShanghART, another M50 gallery.
Artist Zhou Tiehai’s iconic “Joe Camel” hangs in ShanghART.
The speakers included Karen Smith, author of “Nine Lives, The Birth of Avant-Garde Art in China.” Writer, critic and curator Philip Tinari lectured on shifts in the perception of artists.
New York’s PERFORMA curator Defne Ayas spoke about performance art and new media. Speaker Binghui Huangfu, deputy director of Zendai Museum.
Fine Art Agent William Hanbury-Tenison discussed traditional Chinese art. Chinese specialist, Jeremy Wingfield, of Phillips de Pury auction house.
ArtHub Director Davide Quadrio spoke about experimental art.
Michelle Blumenthal, with art scholar Zhao Chuan, described the evolution of Shanghai abstract art. On weekends, we met in Xintiandi, a historic restoration district.
Many nationalities were represented in our class.
Our lunch break at Fountain Restaurant in Xintiandi.
Walking the streets of Xintiandi, one block from my apartment.
Photographs by Jeanne Lawrence. New York-based Jeanne Lawrence reports on lifestyle and travel from her homes in Shanghai and San Francisco, and wherever else she finds a good story.