Shanghai—Pearl Lam Galleries is pleased to present The Past, the first solo exhibition in China by Turkish artist Mehmet Ali Uysal. Uysal will present two news series of sculptural and installation work, Suspended and Painting, which explore the concept of value in art as a cultural production and commodity. At the core of his artistic practice is a questioning of contemporary art, its institutions, and the art market.
Growing up in Turkey, Uysal’s first visits to European museums as a young adult left an indelible mark on him. The artist recounts how his encounters with the institutions and modes of display in the West left him both exhilarated and frustrated. The cultural achievements of the past as viewed from a Western perspective were unfolding before his eyes, but at the same time there was a distinct feeling that history was being revisited as a spectacle, highlighting for him the relationship between art and commodification. Furthermore, the West’s domination of art history and the absence of counter-narratives in a globalised world exposed an imbalance in how non-Western art is historicised and received. Uysal is particularly concerned by the homogenisation of art production, and the proliferation of satellite museums and other institutions based on Western models in the Middle East and China. His response is to challenge how art is valued and experienced in space.
Suspended is a series of gilded frames that hang solemnly on the gallery walls, devoid of obvious subject matter and recontextualised. Originally conceived as elaborate designs to accentuate the aesthetic and monetary value of a work of art, the frames no longer delineate a composition. Stripped of any formal function, ostentation and pageantry, they hang distorted against the backdrop of the white gallery space. Ostensibly redundant, the frames are elevated by the artist to a work of art, thus reversing their objectification. Uysal’s intervention, transforming the symbolic values of an object to a higher value, acts as a criticism against a system that is determined by an ever-growing art market.
Uysal extends the criticism of symbolic value to the idea of the white cube and the relationship between the work of art and space. In his Painting series, the works are not immediately visible in the gallery and appear to hover somewhere between presence and absence. The artist challenges the perception of the viewer, who at first instance sees an empty wall. As the eyes adjust to the whiteness, the outlines of frames appear to protrude from the walls like a ghostly presence. Painting embodies and is embodied by the gallery space, blurring the line between the two. Where does the work of art end and where does the gallery begin? The embedded blank frames of a bygone era question the changing value of painting, as well as the interdependence between the work of art, the gallery, the museum, and the market.
Uysal’s engagement with the concept of value in an artwork acts as a framework for an understanding of contemporary art practices, which are rooted in the past and perpetuated in the present.