Sanitised Sensation

Jake And Dinos Chapman, UbermenschAfter 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 (€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).

Mark Quinn, InnoscienceBut 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…

1 thought on “Sanitised Sensation”

  1. Great report. And the salient point is the last one about cartoon style paintings. They are everywhere this spring at auctions and in the galleries. It seems that the East-West artistic discourse between China and Europe/US is largely confined to the narrow bandwidth of various neo-pop genres — long on humor and bombast, short on nuance and ideas, unencumbered by the need for critical elaboration. It’s what seems to make it over there, and it’s certainly what rebounds to here from there. Chalk it up to the vagaries of transcultural communication. This sort of one-liner art is a kissing cousin of commercial art broadcast to wide audiences. It’s quick and snappy for the same reason: When people share so little, you aim for the common denominator.

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