Friday, November 12, 2010

Shanghai Social Diary

On the way to the James Cohan Gallery, we passed through the French Concession neighborhood where the influx of new automobiles is pushing bicyclists off the road.
by Jeanne Lawrence

SHANGHAI—When my New York friend Sarina Tang flew to Shanghai from her home in Beijing to tour art galleries, I dropped everything to join her. She is so knowledgeable about the art scene.

Sarina is a curator and producer as well as a collector, and she runs a not-for-profit entity "Currents - Art and Music” (on the web as
When Art Collector/Consultant Sarina Tang invited me along on an art gallery tour of Shanghai; I invited my friend Susan Dunlevy to join us.
Sarina’s currently bringing eight Brazilian artists to China and some Chinese artists to Brazil. The works that the artists produce while abroad will be exhibited in Beijing in 2012, and parts of that exhibition will travel to Brazil and the U.S.

I invited Susan Dunlevy, then living in Shanghai, to join Sarina and me on what turned out to be a great day. We enjoyed a chance meeting with several of China’s most prominent artists, a sneak preview of a new museum, and a visit to an artist’s studio.

Over the last two years, I’ve seen new galleries, cafes and boutiques in Red Town, and I’m sure the scene will grow even more vibrant.
Susan Dunlevy, her 11-year-old twins, Paige and Gwynie, and her husband Frank were living in Shanghai for three months.
Our first tour stop on our art tour was to one of the art districts, Red Town, on West Huaihai Road.
The exhibit at the Red Bridge Art Gallery, “Art Superheroes, Graduation,” included the work of young artists from Yew Chung International, Shanghai’s premiere art school. (Beijing and Hangzhou have famous art schools as well.)
The show on was “Art Superheroes, Graduation.”
It was encouraging to watch visiting students as they sketched. Some of their works were not only accomplished but also delivered a message.
The art school librarian told us that one student won a top prize at her school fashion show with a dress made of coffee filters. I was touched by this picture, entitled “Expo and Destruction,” which I understood to mean that when the old city is destroyed to make way for the new, it is a loss for the community.
Thirty Years of Chinese Contemporary Art 1970-2009 was the inaugural exhibition at the new Minsheng Museum, sponsored by and named for China’s first privately owned lender bank. The show traced the history of contemporary Chinese art for 30 years with a display of more than 100 paintings by 80 artists.
Sarina, who seems to know everyone in the art world, ran into artist Zhou Tiehai, who is also executive director of the Minsheng Art Museum. I first met him when I took my contemporary art class and visited his studio.
Even though the scaffolding was up and the museum was still under construction, Sarina cajoled Zhou into showing us the museum and walking us through the show as it was being hung.
Sarina and Zhou Tiehai gave Susan and me a crash course, explaining the evolution of each artist’s style and adding some personal history. We’re standing in front of Liu Xiaodong, Emigration of the Three Gorges, 2003.
Zhou Tiehai is a multi-dimensional artist who incorporates collage and video. “He is best known for his paintings of camel-headed figures in classical costume, taken from western classical paintings, but Tiehai uses airbrush instead of oil as his medium” Sarina explained.
Zeng Fanzhi, Mask Series No. 12, 1997.
Wang Guangyi, Grand Criticism-Omega, 1998.
Red Town Sculpture Garden.
Next we visited the James Cohan Gallery, a branch of James Cohan New York. Director Arthur Solway brought the gallery to China several years ago as he loves China and sees it as the future market.
A typical lane house alleyway, where a mix of locals and foreigners live.
The James Cohan Gallery is located in an ideal space—the first floor of a quintessential 1930’s architectural heritage Art Deco building, with a much-coveted private garden.
Sarina Tang on one of the exercise stations that have been installed all over town to promoted physical fitness. Director of The James Cohan Gallery, Arthur Solway. “In today’s economic climate, art is a tougher sell. Now I go to the collectors, to find out what they want,” said Arthur, explaining that he was headed to Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan.
This photo in one of his many books caught our eye.
Though “The Tell-Tale Heart” show had closed two days earlier, we viewed several pieces that were still up and Arthur enthusiastically discussed his upcoming show, “Roxy Paine: Machination.”
Since Susan loves architecture, I had wanted her to see the beautiful winding staircase and original parquet floors and the rest of the villa.
A view of the neighborhood from the street side windows.
Kiko Sih, Linda Davies, and Arthur Solway. On the second floor Lady Linda Davis was renovating space for her KT Wong Foundation, which co-produced Handel’s opera, “Semele.”
“Semele” premiered last year in Belgium. Performance artist Zhang Huan directed and designed the sets for the opera. The Chinese premiere is on October 24 at the Poly Theater in Beijing, and many of us are flying up for the performance.
The Venetian architectural firm Kokaistudios is on the third floor of the Cohan gallery building. The firm was founded in 2000 by Fillippo Gabbiani and Andrea Destefanis.
Kokaistudios’ projects include some of the best buildings in town, among them Bund l8, 796 Huai Hai Lu, and Shama Luxe at Lakeville Regency, the luxury apartment house where I live.
We ventured next to Moganshan 50, (M50). It’s out of the way, and many taxi drivers don’t know how to find it, so if you go, bring a map. The gallery mix here includes some very good ones and some very commercial ones, but it’s still a must-see area.
We walked around Moganshan 50 Art District, where much construction is still going on. We enjoyed looking at the paintings on the walls and doors.
The Dunlevy twins notice this gnarled root in front of H-Space.
At ShanghART’s H-Space, we saw the first solo show by 26- year-old Shanghai artist Liu Weijian.
Liu Weijian paints everyday urban China—scenes of construction sites and workers in muted hues of browns, grays, and greens.
Engrossed in the art work.
ShanghART’s Gallery Owner Lorenz Helbling , me, artist Yan Pei Ming, Sarina Tang and Laura Zhou.
The art and the collection of art books on the table at ShanghART captivated the Dunlevy twins. Perhaps we have some future art historians here!
Sarina phoned artist Yan Pei Ming, who happened by chance to be working at his studio in the same complex, so he dropped into ShanghART to say hello. We had first met at a dinner party given by Lynn and David Barboza, a New York Times correspondent.

Sarina and Pei Ming, friends for a decade, have met up in various spots around the globe—in Paris in 2003 at the exhibition “Alors la Chine?" at the Centre Pompidou; in Shanghai at the Shanghai Biennale; in New York at the time of the Armory Show; and in Beijing at his solo exhibition at the UCCA.
Chinese-born Yan Pei Ming, who now lives in Dijon, France was invited by the French government to create artworks for its Expo 2010 French Pavilion.

He opened his studio and gave us a private pre-view of the art being packed up that day and transported to the Expo site.
“I’ve been painting children for the entire course of my career,” he said. “They are where my heart lies. The children of migrant workers in China are deprived and have no voice — in my depiction of them, I am giving them voices.” The pictures are also a political statement about how these children are being neglected. Displayed in a line along the wall, the images he created had a powerful effect.

What a great day: It’s always a special treat to view art in the studio of the artist who created it. The next day, Sarina left for Beijing and Brazil, I left to explore Fujian and Shanxi province with the Global Heritage Fund, and Suzanne headed to San Francisco. Up in the air – that’s us!
Outside the French Pavilion, Yan Pei Ming’s work is exhibited. Inside are paintings by Cezanne, van Gogh, Manet and other masters.
Yan Pei Ming’s works include portraits of migrant children whose expressions ran the gamut—sad, crying, angry, and happy. He worked with car paint on heavy steel so the works could withstand the elements, as they’d be outside for six months.
Sarina Tang with Yan Pei Ming. The Dunlevy twins enjoyed playing in the studio surrounded by the paintings of migrant children.
Above: Yan Pei Ming and me.

Right: His Chinese favorite.
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.