SHANGHAI KALEIDOSCOPE at the Royal Ontario Museum (100 Queen’s Park), to November 2. $20, stu/srs $17, Friday 4:30-9:30 pm $10, stu/srs $8.50, free Wednesday 4:30-5:30 pm. 416-586-8000. Rating: NNN
Since 2000, Chinese artists have operated in relative freedom, exhibiting internationally. This may explain their somewhat uncritical embrace of urban intensification in this sampling of (all-male) Chinese and Western visions of Shanghai, where the world’s densest agglomeration of skyscrapers is sinking into the damp soil.
Yang Zhenzhong’s two videos, one of the artist balancing an inverted Oriental Pearl Tower on his finger, and the two-screen Let’s Puff, in which a woman on one screen blows air that causes a street scene opposite to accelerate, offer a cheery, playful view of fast-forward modernization.
Shi Yong contributes an installation of 56 foggy photo transparencies of illuminated skyscraper caps, making them into strange, insubstantial objects. Song Dong projects a series of city scenes unto a piece of paper that he then crumples, obliterating the images in a kind of video slide show in which the screen is constantly being ripped away.
Shen Fan’s neon Landscape: Commemorating Huang Binhong is a fragment of the version shown at the 06 Shanghai Biennial, where a 10-metre-long work of brushstroke-shaped lights was slowly illuminated to a soundtrack of traditional zither music. Though Shen approved it, denying this work its sound and light robs it of much of its content.
A slide show of photos from Greg Girard’s Phantom Shanghai (exhibited last winter at Monte Clark Gallery) documents what is disappearing; an aerial film by Olivo Barbieri captures the city’s alarming density; and Shi Guorui’s two huge, spectacular negative prints of camera obscura panoramas are appropriately ghostly.
An online search reveals more pointed work by these artists, like Yang’s I Will Die video installation, Shi Yong’s caricatures of Chinese family values and Song’s city models made of biscuits. Let’s hope contemporary art from China that makes this kind of complex cultural commentary comes to Toronto soon.