M50 is an ex-factory space that has become a massive warren of gallery-studios. Since its inception the site has evolved – apparently very rapidly (like everything in Shanghai) – from being a place of cheap-rent studio-spaces for poor artists to a destination for coach-parties of tourists. Besides the relatively well-hidden studios there are now many lovely galleries showing artists with international reputations.
It’s a massive site with no ‘trail’ to ensure that you cover all the territory so you need to make several trips and do random walk-abouts. There’s a bit of everything: kitschy pop-art stuff; paintings that look like high-school student stuff (loads of heavily-laden symbolism); the expected Chinoiserie (produced for the Western visitors? Personally I’ve just never taken to it; same with green tea) plus loads of downright fab stuff. I don’t know why I started my list with ‘kitsch’. There are massive works hung in superb spaces (factory architecture is so great for art, isn’t it) with price tags of £30,000, though the price-range for lovely prints descends right down to “affordable by Sue” (raising the agonising question – is my gift to myself, while in Shanghai, going to be Art or cashmere? Aagh…).
Note: if you are unable to visit M50 in person, instead visit and browse ArtlinkArt an amazing bilingual database for Chinese contemporary art set up in 2009 which already lists nearly 30,000 contemporary Chinese artists and much more. This site is great for getting an overview of What’s Going On in Art in China. Well, it’s great if and when the site lets you on it…
Here’s my fairly random pick from Mo Gan Shan:
Wei Ping (English name Sunny)
Born in 1971, Wei Ping is a printmaker teaching in one of the Shanghai art colleges as well as having her own studio at Mo Gan Shan. Her works stem from initial photographs blown up to more than life-size. The scale of completed works can be more than 3 metres. Her subject-matter is autobiographical, personal, intimate and psychological, for example there are pictures of children, her family members, her youthful self, and some female nudes. The theme of one substantial body of work is ‘stop thinking’, repeated as though a mantra for life. This “advice” is repeated thousands of times in tiny (Western script) hand-writing which functionally adds shading and texture to the initial prints-from-photos. From a distance the hand-writing looks like cross-hatching , softening the image’s outliines until it is no longer immediately apparent that a photograph was the first stage. I met Wei Ping and bought three glossy-paper A3 copies of her prints at a total cost of £7.50 (-:
Guo Hai Ping
Artists Guo Hai Ping (b.1962) is a forerunner in the world of art therapy in China. Mental illness in his close family and in his personal experience has been his starting point for artistic exploration and also research into connections between the artistic gift and mental health issues. His work includes installations – some of which have caused controversy with the Chinese authorities – and paintings resulting from time spent as a voluntary resident in a Chinese mental hospital.
Guo Hai Ping has written a lot about art and spirituality (‘the soul’) and has also curated exhibitions of work by long-term residents of psychiatric institutions with whom he has worked as an art therapist. See his contentious book, co-written with psychiatrist Wang Yu, ‘Demented Art: Report on Chinese mental Patients’ Art’, Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House, which is critical to a certain degree of China’s system of psychiatric care. See also the catalogue of an exhibition he curated of psychiatric patients’ work, ‘Notes of Outsider Art in China’, ISBN 978-7-5671-1377-0
Yang Xiao Jian
1F no.2, Bldg 7, 50 Mo Gan Shan Lu, Shanghai 200060,
Yang Xiao Jian (b. 1960 in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province) had a classical training in Chinese calligraphy before transforming into a fine artist who uses ink and whose works, on massive canvases, are shaped by his calligraphic mark-making along with reflecting his love of abstract expressionists such as Franz Kline, Soulages, Robert Motherwell.
We walked into the gallery where his ‘Black Sight’ exhibition was hung and were completely bowled over. I am personally a bit prejudiced against ink, because I associate it with water and translucence and therefore half-expect insipidness. But Yang Xiao Jian’s works, predominantly thought not solely using black ink, are massive, bold, power-fuelled, ambitious, dramatic blocks – many on canvases of a size which would not fit into your apartment. Fantastic. I bought the postcards. He sells internationally with mega price tags but there were some original unique prints in a little pile that you could sift through, starting at £300. He describes himself as ‘The Ink Beast’. Check out his website.
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