Moods in China’s art circles always seem buoyant and optimistic, but the suspense leading up to ShContemporary, Sept. 6-9, 2007, in Shanghai has an accompanying sour aftertaste. Debuting at the Shanghai Convention Center, ShContemporary is set to leapfrog over Beijing’s more established fair scene to become China’s most cosmopolitan and not-to-be-missed art showcase. Its organizers, former Art Basel director Lorenzo Rudolf and Geneva gallerist/longtime Chinese art collector Pierre Huber, are promising not only a distilled version of the Mainland art scene for Western collectors but a real celebrity art fair for Shanghai and China, at last.
Working closely with them is the Shanghai-based painter Zhou Tiehai -- known for his paintings featuring Camel Joe -- who seems to have already abandoned his art-making career for one of art-world schmoozing and fair management. ShContemporary features 100 galleries, though with an antiseptically egalitarian 50/50 split between "Asian" and "International" dealers. Only 7 of the chosen few are from Shanghai itself -- hence the bitterness and grumblings.
Many of the ShContemporary’s featured galleries are not new to international fairs, galleries such as ShangART, Continua and Meile. The "best of" artists they show won’t be new to collectors even mildly familiar with the current Chinese art market. There is also displeasure that most of these established galleries come with Western directors or investment. Nonetheless, high cuisine, boutique hotels, the famous Bund riverside district and the shadow of Shanghai’s rich cultural past will take the edge off for visitors.
And while uninvited local galleries succumb to the infamous Shanghainese pride and grumble about Western influence on this "Chinese" art fair, there are tons of excellent shows scheduled and even more lavish hospitality planned. All this is sure to prove that Shanghai can be just as jubilant an art town as London or New York -- and that it is determined to wrestle Beijing’s heavyweight title as the People’s Republic’s "Capital of Contemporary Art."
Heiress and Contrasts Gallery director Pearl Lam is hosting almost nightly VIP parties at her opulent homes scattered throughout the city. South Beauty restaurateur Zhang Lan will host an event at her Shanghai location (her Beijing restaurant was recently redesigned by Philippe Starck). Hermès is also sponsoring a show at the Shanghai Art Museum.
Meanwhile, off the VIP roster, Shanghai galleries have been preparing their flashiest, most daring shows of the season. The Shanghai Gallery of Art, located in a lovely colonial building on the Bund, will show artist Liu Jianhua, who takes the occasion to speak out against modern colonialism. In a truly filthy outcry against the global economy, he takes as his medium garbage imported to China for disposal, filling the gallery space with trash. Rumor has it Liu will even break a wall in the old building to import an entire wrecked car.
Shanghai-based prankster artist Xu Zhen, known for his performance work cutting off the tip of Mount Everest, is featured in a new exhibition organized by curator Biljana Ciric and titled "Rejected Proposals." It explores the relationship between artists and curators (including Xu’s own proposal to fill the Tate Modern with homeless people, an idea that was was rejected last year). Guerrilla art projections around town come courtesy of the Hipic Photo Project via BizArt, one of China’s first non-profit artist collectives, and are also executed in collaboration with Xu Zhen, bringing still more of his unpredictability to the fair week.
Sept. 4-5 will be artists’ open studio day at Moganshan Lu, the city’s artist’s district. Not only are great galleries concentrated here, it is a place to shop for Chinese art books at the art bookstore Timezone 8. Almost all of the fair’s spotlighted Shanghai galleries will host lavish receptions at their spaces.
And if, with all this, you can’t find enough to fill your time, ShContemporary is lucky -- the city’s impressive nightlife and a glimpse of China’s rapid growth should be enough of a spectacle in itself.
LEE AMBROZY is an critic and translator in Beijing.