“In the Blink of an Eye", the new show at the Vanguard Gallery, displays works from three young painters commenting on the fractured temporality of youth. Inadvertently, though, the show questions the medium of painting, its strengths, weaknesses and relevance in Shanghai.
Despite the beating painting has taken over the past decades, it is still relevant and will certainly outlive us. Gallery owners love paintings. They are much easier to sell than performance or installations. But this doesn’t excuse the sloppiness and half measures which plague local galleries. While fighting the good fight, Vanguard Gallery's new show encounters some of the same problems.
Trained as a traditional Chinese artist, Liu Fei is the proud inheritor of strong, Oriental linework–something rarely seen in Western painting. His paintings feature drawings of cultural icons, Confucius and astrology symbols done in garish day-glo paint. The end results resemble prison tattoos–and that’s not an insult.
Xiang Jiang’s paintings echo Gerhard Richter. Like the German, Xiang paints from photographs and ends up with calmly depressing canvasses. In “I’m Not There,” a digital camera is perched on a windowsill and our gaze is met by that of a voyeur in the distance. The triangulation gets heady in this apartment block where people play tag with their eyes.
Xiang’s work is about contemporary ways of seeing. But is painting about seeing anymore? Photography is about seeing. Painting is about essentializing and obscuring. By painting from a camera, Xiang interrogates traditional roles of painting. This point is driven home by his film noir subject matter. Its confession-room imagery hews close to the traditional job of painting.
Tang Dixin, a 28-year-old learning German, is also featured here. Not so much Richter, but Sigmar Polke and Martin Kippenberger are both present here. When Tang is good, his paintings suggest the hazy wingspan of memory. When he’s bad, the thinly washed canvases simply look unfinished.
Such is the predicament of painting in Shanghai. When it’s good, it’s really good. But there are no guarantees.