After an eleven week run at the Hyde Park Art Center Shanghype! closed in mid-December. Due to various installation issues we ended up with fifteen artists on the final roster. The works were shown in a looped projection in the Black Box room at HPAC. The room is an under-used facility, and part of my motivation to show this work there was simply to put this valuable asset to use. Another reason was that in Chicago many of the best shows of new art from China have been at the Smart Museum of Art, which is just across the neighborhood on the University of Chicago campus. From the beginning I thought it would make a kind of curatorial sense to present a show like Shanghype! in the near vicinity, but in a venue with a more general audience, thereby attracting the academic viewers that are already interested in this kind of work, but bringing in a less specialized neighborhood audience at the same time.
The show was reviewed in New City, Time Out, and the Chicago Tribune. The Tribune review was primarily focused on Reversed Images at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, and only addressed Shanghype! in passing. The Time Out review was, I thought, weak on interpretation and poorly informed to begin with. Here is an excerpt from the most positive passage:
Fortunately, viewers who don’t have that much time or patience have a decent chance of stumbling on something unique, such as Qiu Anxiong’s breathtaking Minguo Landscape (2006), a retelling of early-20th-century Chinese history that resembles an animated ink painting. Many videos offer genuine insight into what it’s like to live—and drive—in a city of almost 19 million people. China’s economic growth overshadows every work, most notably Yang Zhenzhong’s Spring Story (Siemens) (2003), in which the artist cobbles together footage of more than 1,500 Shanghai-based Siemens employees. They individually recite a 1992 speech by the late Communist Party leader Deng Xiaoping, a few words at a time. While it’s heartwarming to watch this diverse cast have fun collaborating on Zhenzhong’s project, eventually the workers’ sunny statements about special economic zones seem even scarier than Shanghai traffic.
See, now I would say that Qiu Anxiong’s Minguo Landscape, while a pleasure to watch, falls clearly into a category derviative of William Kentridge’s charcoal animations. Qiu’s recent animations are more original and take on more pointed themes, but for to describe this one, ‘breathtaking’ is certainly not the word I’d use.
On the other hand, Yang Zhenzhong’s Spring Story is a tour de force, both aesthetically and conceptually. Here is where the reviewer’s lack of background knowledge comes in. This was not just any speech by Deng Xiaoping, but the keynote address of his now-legendary Southern Tour. The political program rhetoric that the reviewer finds quaint in fact forms the ideological root of the policies that drive China’s ongoing economic expansion—the very expansion that brought Siemens to Shanghai, and all those cheaply manufactured goods to the rest of the world. As an elegant and poetic subversion of China’s officialdom, and an artistic meditation on the legacy of China's Reform Period, this work is hard to match.
The review in New City is much more circumspect in its pronouncements. This is a credit to the writer’s modesty. I am all for staking out positions and passing critical judgement, but when you don’t have the basic info, a strong judgement can make you look a little foolish, or at least put a dent in one’s critical credibility.