After last week’s visit to the “Art in America: 300 Years of Innovation” exhibition I was prepared to be underwhelmed by the “Aftershock” show of YBAs at the Capital Museum here in Beijing. Arriving at the imposing new museum building on FuXingMenWai DaJie, a mile or so West of the entrance to the Forbidden City, I was slightly perplexed by the lack of any external indication of the show (though there was a large banner proclaiming an Italian Heritage exhibition) and the fact that it was clearly a museum for antiquities found in and around Beijing. After confirming that the British show was indeed there, and buying my 50RMB (â‚¬5) ticket, I was gently directed to a small unmarked door to the right of the main atrium hall and shortly thereafter found myself staring up at Jake & Dinos Chapmans’ homage to Prof Stephen Hawking: Ubermensch.
The show is essentially a smaller (12 artists), milder, version of Saatchi’s YBA Sensation show at the Royal Academy a decade ago. And yes a smaller, milder sensation is what you get. Tracy’s bed is neatly made without a condom in sight. There is no Hirst formaldehyde and the only totally naked form is that of Marc Quinn’s medical milk formula and synthetic polymer wax baby (Innoscience).
But none of the Chinese I saw at the show (art students and casual middle class visitors alike) were complaining. We may find it all a little humdrum now but these two shows (300 Years and Aftershock) are both firsts for China; groundbreaking in their display of particularly contemporary western art in China, in a prestigious forum, and are welcome for it.
The reticence to promote and slightly odd, if impressive, location are therefore forgivable in the context of exposing local Chinese to art they have only ever been able to see before in books and online. The organisers are thus to be commended.
Perhaps, as a result, local art students will be encouraged to be a little more adventurous again. I, for one, am getting a little tired of the current vogue for cartoon style paintings…