Last Friday journeyed to the Japan-China Friendship Center (日中友好会館) in Iidabashi to see the Shanghai Art Museum Collection exhibit with Yu.
It’s a very small museum, maybe about 50 works total in two rooms. Free admission. Like most Japanese museums, it does not have a permanent collection (or at least not one that’s on permanent display), but rather exhibits only temporary traveling exhibits.
I expected to see more works by artists I’d heard of, more works of a more Chinese bent, more works with some political energy behind them. But, as Yu pointed out, the Shanghai Art Museum is government controlled, and so in a way the exhibit could be seen as a glimpse into what the PRC government wants Chinese art to represent. What is modern China? What is modern Chinese art? Apparently, judging from this exhibition, it’s perfect emulation of the oil painting styles of Western masters and a distancing from anything “traditional”, i.e. Chinesey, in order to prove that Chinese are just as good as Westerners at creating ugly, meaningless, “modern art” works with no grounding in history or culture.
I find it interesting, since China in particular, more than any other country I feel, desires on some level to reject the West and maintain its own self-image as the center of civilization, the never-having-fallen Rome of the East. Unlike Japan, which embraced Western modernity and made it its own, twisting it into a particular flavor of Japanese ultramodernity, China seems to be struggling with how to prove it is equal to the West (we can do whatever you can do but we do it better) while rejecting that entirely (we do our own thing and its better than your thing).
Outside of the one work by Zhang Xiaogang seen above on the exhibit catalog, and on just about every website for the exhibit, I cannot seem to find any other images of works included there. This is, in any case, the only work in the exhibit by an artist I’d heard of – no Gu Wenda, no Xu Bing, no Wang Guanyi – and, arguably of course, the only attractive one. There were a couple more that felt very Chinese in subject matter if not in painting style, and which reflected aspects of modern life in China. A window on life in this time and that place.