Over the past ten years, I have been working and travelling frequently across Mainland China’s metropolises to stay tuned for the unceasingly evolving local photographic scene. This year was a bit special as we went on an intense tour of chiefly Shanghai and Beijing within the framework of the newly released “Shortcut” interviews series (read the Shortcut series announcement). During a few weeks, “Shortcut” interviews co-producer Pierre Brullé and I have been very busy interviewing and meeting photographers, gallery directors and collectors. When time allowed it, we rushed to spaces to (re)discover nice shows. The section below then cannot be considered as an exhaustive review of all photography shows currently held in China; instead it offers highlights of some of the exhibitions that particularly caught our attention.
Newcomer: Galerie Photo12 (Shanghai)
A newcomer to Shanghai is the French Valérie-Anne Giscard d’Estaing’s Galerie Photo12. Dedicated to twentieth century and contemporary photography since 2005, this gallery originally based in Paris has opened just a few months ago a showroom in 203 Kangping road (Xuhui district). The viewer is welcomed in a small yet sophisticatedly decorated and cosy space, in which photographic works depicting famous personalities and the world of cinema are hung on the wall. On this occasion, the gallery featured key photographic works taken by Stephen Vaughan, Jean-Marie Périer, Nicolas Baghir, Marie Cécile Thijs, and Patrick Braoudé amongst others well-known names.
Special visit: M97 Gallery (Shanghai)
Steven Harris’s M97 Gallery is certainly one of the oldest and most authoritative galleries solely dedicated to contemporary photography in Shanghai. Although the space was in between two shows, Steven warmly opened the doors and allowed us to discover the new venue where he moved last year. Located in 363 Changping road in a former light bulb factory set within a stone throw from Moganshan road – renown for its conglomerate of galleries and arty spaces - the gallery now is spread out on two floors.
The ground floor was still showing Adou’s new works that explored black and white geometric compositions made of cut negatives films amongst other elements. We then took a stair towards a nice roof top leading to the second part of the gallery. Called the “Project space”, it invites artists to respond to this elongated room with raw walls, challenging and enriching the usual type of white cube space we tend to associate with contemporary galleries. Huang Xiaoliang was the previous artist invited to take over this space; an artist that Steven has been very keen to support recently.
Next shows planned ahead will involved the audacious No.223 (aka Lin Zhipeng) at the Project Space, and a group show downstairs that will gather ten or so artists, including Chen Wei, Adou, Luo Dan, Hong Lei as well as a few newcomers.
New space: Liu Bolin at Magda Danysz Gallery (Shanghai)
The French gallerist Magda Danysz has been very active since 2009 in Shanghai. After having based her thousands square meters space in Yangpu district for a while, she came back few months ago to the Bund where she originally launched her first venture (called at that time Bund 18 Gallery). Despite its smaller size, this new space in 256 Beijing East Road offers a potential source of refreshing exhibitions. The opening show displayed Liu Bolin’s well-known and less-known works, including his long-standing performative camouflage photographs as well as installations works made of electronic components.
Tour of the Bund: Yang Yongliang at Matthew Liu Fine Arts (Shanghai)
We have been honoured to interview Yang Yongliang in his studio in south Bund. While we were discovering his latest lightbox photographs, 4K video work and ongoing VR installation, he kindly informed us that the Matthew Liu Gallery was holding a solo show of him. Located behind the Rockbund Museum, we discovered the gallery by climbing massive red stairs. The space itself was divided in three medium size rooms, which efficiently separated Yang’s different works.
We first discovered his latest ink landscape paintings on a century-old silver paper, strengthening ink nuances and the overall glittering quality. We immediately recognized Yang’s mastery of the brush techniques thanks to his training in calligraphy. The second space juxtaposed his 4K video and his most recent lightbox photographs, whose small sizes force the viewer to engage physically with the landscape by gazing at it very closely. The last space displayed a recent large format photograph next to two paintings, which all echoed Yang’s famous dystopian urban-natural landscape made of ruins.
Tour of the Bund: Group show at Shanghai Gallery of Art (Shanghai)
Moving towards south on the Bund, the long-established Shanghai Gallery of Art was holding a group show entitled “Collage: The Cards players”. It gathered eighteen Chinese and foreign artists using differing mediums, yet all exploring the notions of montage and assemblage in two or three dimensions. The show was curated by Xⁿ Office: a curator group set up by the art historian Xu Dan (Penny) and the artist Ni Youyu, who reworked old photographs by recomposing panoramic landscape views on this occasion.
Other artists of interest: Yao Peng who offered a semantic approach to somewhat mundane black and white photographs by creating constellation of words decoding in its own way every single characters and components in the central image. And Zhang Hui’s images within images, which built a fragmentary experience of exterior landscapes that seemed to be situated nowhere and everywhere.
Moganshan road: Laurence Chellali at OFOTO Gallery (Shanghai)
Huang Yunhe’s OFOTO Gallery belong to the rare group of galleries that have dedicated its efforts to promote contemporary photography in China for the last decade. The configuration of rooms offered interesting spatial narratives: a first room devoted to the current exhibition; then a showroom displaying a variety of works of pivotal artists of the gallery; and finally the Anart space dedicated to other mediums such as drawing and sculpture. This May exhibition showcased the French female photographer Laurence Chellali, whose works reinvented the neighbouring school stadium she scrutinized daily during a year from her balcony in Nanjing. Last year, Yunhe joined forces with Alain Jullien to set up the Biennale of Tianshui whose topic was the image of the Silk Road.
Moganshan road: Group show at Vanguard Gallery (Shanghai)
Vanguard Gallery director Lise Li introduced her latest group show “Pieces”, which showcased paper artworks of Chen Xingye, Xue Mu, Xiao Jiang, Ye Linghan, Yuki Onodera. The largest piece was Onodera’s silk screen that mingled engraving, drawing, and photography. This series was produced in China by skilled craftsmen, who needed to utilize over thirty large-format silk screens. Onodera’s interest in prints was triggered by the uncertain future of photographic printing in the post gelatin silver print era.
Since 2004, Lise has been supporting emerging and more established artists, including a fair number of photographers, that she promotes in Shanghai as well as in international art fairs across the world. For instance, the gallery is exhibiting this May in LOOP Barcelona works by the recently supported artist Tang Chao, whose photographs and other body of works call into question the social system in contemporary China. Hopefully Parisian audience will perhaps be able to discover a selection of the artists supported by the gallery at the next Asia Now art fair held in Paris next October.
West Bund: “Here’s looking at you” at SCôP (Shanghai)
We have waited for years for Shanghai to open its own photo center. In 2015, Liu Heung Shing and Karen Smith answered the call by launching the Shanghai Center of Photography (SCôP). This atypical space made of circular walls was holding a group exhibitions called “Here’s looking at you”, which brought together the diverse visions of Thomas Sauvin, Daniel Traub and Liu Tao. These three body of photographic works occupied separated spaces, yet linked by a central circular ambulatory.
The French collector and artist Thomas Sauvin is famed for the ways in which he has been rethinking Chinese vernacular photography by salvaging negatives dating back to the 1980s from a recycling plant on the edge of Beijing.
Daniel Traub is an American photographer and film-maker looking at the social ecology of a Chinese city, and how dramatic economic shifts in China’s production and trade have introduced an unexpected, vibrant element to a local community.
Liu Tao has gained a name on Instagram for his humorous and incongruous snapshots stolen from the streets of China. Hung either as single photo, diptychs, or mosaic, Liu’s images examine contemporary Chinese society with a compassionate derision.
Established: TSA Award at Three Shadows Photography Art Centre (Beijiing)
We had little time left to visit more venues in Beijing. However, the curator from the Three Shadows Center Chen Shen guided us around the exhibition. The ongoing show was the Ninth Three Shadows Photography Awards (TSPA), an award planned annually. Entitled “Allegory”, the exhibition introduced twenty emerging and more established local and international photographers. This year 2017, the photographer Liang Xiu won the Three Shadows Photography Award, alongside Zhang Zhizhou who won the Shiseido excellent photographer award. A special mention must be accorded to the female photographer Wang Jia, who created an astounding installation that enquires into traumatic impacts and the role of family in forming an artistic vision.
We finished the visit by another room that exhibited color and black and white photographs of the Japanese female photographer Mika Ninagawa. The French noted photographer Valérie Belin will soon be introduced to the local audience as part of the Croisements Festival (leading Franco-Chinese artistic festival held annually).
Other areas and venues are of course worthy of attention, such as Song Zhuang village (where is based for instance the ON/Gallery ran by Wang Lingyun), the now touristy but acclaimed 798 art district, Caochangdi as well as Heiqiao, which unfortunately faced the fate of demolition recently that forced artists to move their studios elsewhere. While being exciting, this intense tour confirmed the impression that there is still work to be done to promote to a greater audience the value and impact of photographic practices in China.