Shanghai Exhibit

This week I spent the day in the city with my parents, including a visit to the Shanghai exhibit at the Asian Art Museum. There was no photography allowed, so I couldn’t snap my favorite pieces to show here and I struck out finding them online as well:

  • Shen Roujian, During the Great Leap Forward, 1958
  • Chen Yifei, Morning on the Long Canal, 1995
  • Li Hua, A Corner of the City, 1947
  • Shao Keping, Morning toilet on the Huangpu River, 1961

The biggest surprises for me were the Impressionist and Deco pieces. Deco should not have been a surprise, as it was the first truly global design style. I liked the asymmetry and bamboo motifs, which distinguish it from other regional Deco styles. The most intriguing aspect of the Impressionist work was that much of it was contemporary, yet would have looked right at home hanging next to paintings 100 years older.

The last major point of interest was the cultural debate of “national essence”, the desire to preserve tradition, versus “reformist”, the desire to evolve and revive the art scene by blending new and old. I am a proponent of maintaining tradition, but history has shown time and again that doubling down on the past to the exclusion of all other influences is a losing proposition. A giant painting in the last room was a poster child for this squabble, with some critics arguing it could not be considered contemporary simply because it uses a traditional medium. It seemed like a purely academic argument, because it was obvious to me that this emotional, abstract painting was inarguably contemporary in its composition and style. I thought it was an excellent example of blending the past and present into something progressive but still indelibly Chinese. Then again, what do I know? I’m not a critic.