So, those Olympic opening ceremonies last week, huh. Big. Crazy. China, on the world stage, kicking ass and taking names down in its book made of a million billion fireworks. Directed by Zhang Yimou, which sort of lends some credence to the whole State-Censored Fifth Generation Filmmaker Sells Out to Party (and Global Marketplace) accusations that’ve been dogging Zhang since at least Hero.
Apparently a fair amount of Chinese people weren’t too impressed with how ostentatious Zhang was on their behalf, either.
So in contrast, let’s talk about about “Hero”, a series of works by the Chinese artist Shen Jingdong, on view through August 30 at China Square. It all looks like this painting — which is to say, there are a few actual steel or fiberglass Jeff Koons-meets-Playmobil sculpture of Red Army soldiers and model families, and a lot of paintings that could be of sculptures like that. All the faces look the same, and light shines the same off of hats, faces, hair, uniforms. It’s really great — a witty, touching, aesthetically deft critique of Maoist China’s tight, factory-style control over Chinese art, and mass production of a national mythology and complementary iconography. (And, as the gallery also points out in a press release, the prefabricated appearance of the art draws parallels between Maoism and the global marketplace, which also streamlines and dictates individual creation.) (With Zhang, a large part of the complaints have to do with his perceived willingness to play ball with the demands of overseas audiences, and subsuming his personal vision into a export-friendly mode of filmmaking. But in Shen’s work, especially with his paintings of cookie-cutter families, it’s pretty clear that the problems of commodification go much deeper than just the art world.)
Also, like all Chelsea galleries, China Square is conveniently located very near the Frying Pan, so make a day of it, huh.