Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai
January 26–March 31, 2013
Under the all-embracing title of A Potent Force, curator Karen Smith presented the work of the Chinese artists Duan Jianyu and Hu Xiaoyuan at Shanghai’s Rockbund Art Museum. Each artist was accorded two floors in which they were represented by a broad selection of works produced mainly since 2008. The umbrella title led one to perhaps expect some explicit connections between the two artists, but, for me, it was their differing backgrounds, styles, and sensibilities that came to be highlighted by their close proximity.
Taking the title as an indicator of her vision, Smith suggested that the phrase “A Potent Force” was designed “to intone the lyrical, introspective, and sentient intellectual process that characterizes these two subtle plays with painting (Duan Jianyu) and conceptual video and installation (Hu Xiaoyuan).”1 Smith proposed that this “force” “references the nature of both artists’ analysis of the world as they experience it.”2 The title, then, acted to express a general quality that resonated between the two artists’ work rather than a specific stylistic, formal, or conceptual attribute.
Smith describes A Potent Force as expressing “the force of socio-cultural shift in the margin of age that separates these two artists, which is underscored by the atmosphere in which they passed their formative years.”3 The “margin” she refers to here is the cusp between the differing experiences that mark the two artists’ generations – Duan Jianyu having been born in 1970 and Hu Xiaoyuan in 1977. As with many aspects of society in China’s recent history, such an apparently short period of time can represent the advent of massive social changes.
In the catalogue for the exhibition, Smith introduces Duan Jianyu and Hu Xiaoyuan’s background and practices before approaching the artists individually, and she acknowledges their differences by characterizing them as “two strongly individual artists”4 and (regarding their productions) as displaying “unrelated approaches to expression: two distinct languages.”5 Smith characterizes Hu Xiaoyuan as “belonging to a generation that is past cynicism, and no longer cares so earnestly,”6 pitting these characteristics against those of Duan Jianyu’s – that Duan Jianyu’s generation remains cynical and (yet) still cares “earnestly.”
Smith seems to be arguing that the connection between Duan Jianyu and Hu Xiaoyuan is related to the concurrence of the periods in which they grew up and developed their practices. The respective eras in which the two artists were born, Smith proposes, mark two sides of a dividing line between one generation and the next. It appears that Smith aims to cast this generational “margin” as a focus of the exhibition, located in between these two artists’ productions.
[To read the full article, please pick up a copy of the Journal or visit the Yishu website]