China Power Plant Unveils Art Show

Shanghai -- This city's Power Station of Art, housed in a former electricity plant on the waterfront, is meant to be a Chinese version of London’s Tate Modern.

However, art collectors of Art Kabinett social media network are not quite sure if this "Tang Turbine Hall" lives up to its lofty aspiration.

The museum is staging its first self-curated show, a 30-year retrospective of Chinese contemporary art, put together in less than half a year on a budget of less than $1 million. With no collection of its own, it sourced works from more than 90 museums, private collectors and artists’ studios.

For anyone who frequents Hong Kong auctions by Sotheby’s and Christie’s International, the exhibition will feel familiar. Paintings by top-selling artists Zeng Fanzhi, Zhang Xiaogang, Yue Minjun and Liu Ye are prominently displayed.

While curators have split the displays into five sections, the placement feels arbitrary.

The show does a poor job explaining the progression of Chinese art, from the Stars paintings in the 1970s, the 1980s New Wave and cynical realism of the 1990s through to today.

What’s more, the headsets don’t come with English translation and the catalog provides little more than thumbnail artist biographies.

Still, it is well worth visiting on the strength of many individual pieces:

Liu Qinghe’s “Sepat” (2007) is a dark and brooding image conjuring up the afterlife and measuring 4.9 meters by 9.6 meters (16 feet by 31.5 feet).

Fan Bo’s “Black Friday” (1997), an oil portrait of fellow painter Chen Tong, captures a loneliness that’s a welcome respite from the ubiquitous toothsome characters of Yue Minjun.

There are fine woodcuts from the late 1970s by Ma Desheng, who originally painted during the cultural revolution and was an important member of the Stars group.

Underwear Workers

Photographs are the strongest element. Rongrong & Inri’s images evoke nostalgia in the face of urbanization.

In Cang Xin’s “Identity Exchange -- China Series,” he photographs himself, as seen above, next to people in their underwear whose identities he appropriates by donning their work attire, representing himself variously as a nurse, a female opera singer and a chef.

A work by Shanghai artist Zhang Huan, commissioned especially for the show, takes full advantage of the central museum foyer. Standing eight meters high, his sculpture is of a human that barely emerges from under a heap of animal hides.

When the Power Station of Art displayed “Andy Warhol, 15 Minutes Eternal” during the summer, his Mao portraits were excluded because of political sensitivities. It’s therefore not surprising to note the conspicuous absence of Ai Weiwei (whose Sunflower Seeds installation is part of Tate Modern’s permanent collection.)

“Portrait of the Times: 30 Years of Chinese Contemporary Art”, runs through November 10.