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In New China. Q Confucius says...

by LiveModern Webmaster last modified Jan 04, 2012 02:46 AM
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by Edward Lifson ( last modified Nov 28, 2011



In China, so posting will be sporadic. At the Rockbund Museum in Shanghai, which mounted the best show I saw anywhere in 2010, namely "Cai Guo-Qiang: Peasant Da Vincis." That was outsider art from China's recent decade, including many homemade flying machines, or artwork representing humans being able to fly away from their earthly conditions. (Hence the name "Peasant Da Vincis.") The works were mainly by peasants.

The Rockbund Museum, a fine renovation by David Chipperfield of an existing exhibition space, now shows "Q Confucius," a solo exhibition by Zhang Huan. It's billed as "a series of thoughts on art and society."
The basic concept of Q Confucius originated from a series of questions ZHANG Huan pondered over: faced with rapid economic and societal changes and energy and climate challenges, how can we achieve sustainable development? What responsibilities come along with China’s rise in international importance? Where is the sense of spiritual belonging for contemporary Chinese? These questions seem massive and unrelated, but actually they are inherently connected by inescapable bonds. The artist hopes to explore the inner structure of the questions through large sculptures, ash paintings and installation works tailored for this exhibition.... As in RAM’s previous exhibitions last year, all the works of the artist are custom-made for the art museum’s space, and strive to correspond with the unique architectural environment and historical and cultural background of the Bund district.

I found it to be effective. Q Confucius No. 2, seen above, the enormous bust of Confucius, rising from the water, and mechanically "breathing," with accompanying audio, does make one reconsider today's "go-go China" and wonder what the wise old sage would think were he to return, and what the role of Confucianism should be today. Those teachings- acknowledged or latent- account for so much of what is truly wonderful in the Chinese people. "Q Confucius" runs through January 29. Don't miss it if in you're in Shanghai. As in many great spaces in Asia, an "emptiness," a stillness, encourages the visitor to consider his or her own essence. Such spaces are rare in contemporary China. Here, perhaps in a more hokey manner than in a traditional Chinese garden, but with the water element, the size (think of the great old Buddhas) and with David Chipperfield's very elegant and understated architecture, compared with the rest of bling and commercial Shanghai, this is spiritual. It may be that a billboard like this is needed to get people's attention today, to take them back to something more quiet.

Speaking of things calmer, The Rockbund Museum, stands by the Bund in Shanghai, which is a major recent triumph in Chinese urbanism. The popular and historic promenade along Shanghai's Huangpu river boasts a grand row of historic international trading and banking buildings in neoclassical, baroque and art deco styles.

Redeveloped for Shanghai's World Expo 2010, city planners sunk eight lanes of traffic underground, then had Chan Krieger Sieniewicz of Cambridge, Massachusetts and NBBJ, redesign the walkway along the river. The new promenade features more green space and art (some of which lights up at night with LEDs changing colors). You look across the river at Shanghai's ultra-modern Pudong district-- think Apple Store, think huge-- with several of the world's tallest buildings, including the Jin Mao tower by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (Adrian Smith) with one of the great skyscraper interiors of the world, surpassed in height by the Shanghai World Financial Center by KPF, which in turn will soon be passed in height by the under construction and rising high Shanghai Tower by Gensler. After the renovation of the Bund the traffic patterns, most thankfully, are far more civilized than they were before. The cars move more easily than in most parts of this "wild-west, anything goes" city. The Bund is a great stroll. Now, if Shanghai's drivers would just stop honking their horns so much.... we could hear ourselves breathing (thus thinking, and being) like the Q Confucius in the Rockbund Museum.




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