Antenna to the Ground

Antenna Space Opening Exhibition

Antenna Space (Room 202, 2nd Floor, Building 17, No. 50 Moganshan Road, Shanghai) Sep 27–Nov 10, 2013

Antenna Space, M50’s latest addition, opened its doors for the first time last month with an inaugural exhibition featuring sixteen young Chinese artists, all of whom had been specially commissioned to produce works for the occasion. The gallery will also play host to a solo show of Han Bing’s figurative oil paintings until November 10.

Antenna Space’s director, Simon Wang, stresses the importance of seeing the works in the opening exhibition as in a dialogue with one another—not stifled by an unnecessary overriding narrative. As such, the show has no defined curatorial theme—rather, a loose but cohesive thread connects the pieces. The result is what appears to be a genuinely organic continuity between the works, characterized by an interest in plasticity, disruption, materiality and tactility, among numerous other themes.

Certain works spring to mind here—Geng Yini’s figurative but seemingly nonsensical conglomeration of images in “Panic” all point to an interest in disrupting the visual field, not through experiments in materiality as such but in the juxtaposition of a fairly traditional style with an overtly surrealist narrative. Geng’s  “Toilet” works in the same vein, playing the age-old trick of placing a beacon of the mundane (in this case, a toilet) in the context of a classic oil painting. The result treads dangerously close to the realm of the overdone, but in practice feels coherent and relevant.

Geng Yini, “Toilet”, oil on canvas, 120 x 90 cm, 2013
耿旖旎,《马桶》,布面油画,120 x 90 cm,2013
Dong Dawei, “Dust to Dust”, drawing on wall, variable size, 2013

Other works in the exhibition are similarly disruptive, though formally very different. Take for instance Dong Dawei’s monochromatic “Dust to Dust”; while its size and color immediately arrest one’s attention, its real appeal comes from its inconsistencies. Painterly residue lies at the bottom of the piece, clearly indicating both the artist’s process and the work’s impermanence, while on closer inspection, the wall of yellow that makes up the work is dotted with small lines and breaks in the material, again reinforcing its limitations and fragmentation.

Huang Yuxing’s “River/Poem and Bubbles” is a similar prospect—not only offering no straight narrative, but also refusing to rest comfortably in any one medium or another—the abstraction of the canvas is further muddied by the inclusion of a sort of protruding construction at its center. Both unsettling and vaguely threatening, Huang’s works are only complemented by Gao Lei’s neighboring sculptures. “Z-772” plays on a kind of industrial-medical complex, combining the easily recognizable sign of a syringe with a strangely overbearing metallic base.

On the other end of the spectrum are the works that relentlessly reinforce material consistency, to the extent that their wholeness and tangibility seem almost overwhelming—this in itself is disruptive. From the literal plasticity of the disjointed fingers in Li Ming’s “40 Hours” to Yu Honglei’s oversized metallic cans in “Life” that greet us at the entrance of the gallery, there is something of Claes Oldenburg in these works — that is to say, an overarching interest in pop culture images, signs and material, all somewhat detached from reality or context. This is not to call the works derivative — indeed here they take on a very contemporary new light, all the while fostering a kind of harshness, an unrelentingly mock-commercial texture.

Li Ming, “40 Hours”, printers, matte photo paper, photo installation, variable size, 2013
Entrance featuring Yu Honglei, “Life”, video, 5′, 2013, and Yu Honglei, “Soup”, sculpture, 45 x 45 x 60 cm (3 pieces), 2013
入口展:尉洪磊,《生活》,五分钟录像,2013, & 尉洪磊,《汤》,雕塑,45 x 45 x 60 cm(三件),2013

A more overt reference to the Western art history canon is evident in Guan Xiao’s “David”, a pseudo-music video contemplating Michelangelo’s most recognizable work. The installation does cover familiar ground—fine art object as a fetish object, the glorification of classical style, the power of reputation, etc. But Guan avoids using clichés to explore these themes, and in doing so pushes them further. The almost chant-like audio track accompanying the video (which itself feels like a strange cross between a fly-on-the-wall documentary on the sculpture and an educational video for children), constantly reiterates that the sculpture is too far away, that David is some sort of sentient being that jumps in and out of our vision at will. David is “documented” through a hand-held camera (presumably on a cell phone), and again only ever seen from a distance.

This choice of medium immediately brings to mind Andre Malraux’s conception of the “museum without walls”, and with it, the usefulness and accessibility of reproduced images. Here this idea is prodded at with more than a hint of cynicism—the high art object here is mediated through the grainy lens of the phone camera, suggesting ideas both on the limitation of current documentary technology and the question of the place of “aura” in the age of reproduction. The viewer can never get “close” enough to the object due to the swathes of people similarly attempting to engage with it, and when they do, it is elevated to the extent that its “presence” is sublimated. Guan’s work may not be subtle, but it does provide an intuitive and interesting take on what can at times feel like a tired question.

Guan Xiao, “David”, three-screen HD video installation, 2013
Guan Xiao, “David”, three-screen HD video installation, 2013

Antenna Space’s launch also features a solo show from artist Han Bing, an oil painter who has trained both in the US and China. When the artist found herself as one of the only realist painters in her MFA class at Parsons, The New School in New York City, Han was pushed not to change her medium, but to experiment with it. Her works are characterized by an interest in the role of technology and the digital world in painterly representation. The introductory wall text references Gerhard Richter, and of course comparisons can be drawn. Han, however, is concerned more with a kind of computerized realism, one that is defined by an understanding of contemporary, socially constructed landscapes and the features that define them—artificial lighting, confinement, claustrophobia. All of these themes pop up in her works, as do interesting takes on scale, the axis of the canvas and digitized grids. Han balances tensions between the abstraction of computer technology and romanticized landscapes remarkably well, fusing expressionism with a sense of mathematical order.

According to Wang, Antenna’s business model is based around helping emerging artists form relationships with interested collectors. The current climate in the Chinese museum world, Wang suggests, is not one best suited to fostering young talent. Instead, galleries must step in to take at least some of the responsibility. The idea is to allow potential buyers to partially fund shows with the opportunity for a reduced price on certain works.

When asked about Antenna Space’s future plans, Wang expressed an interest in showing more international artists, though of course keeping developments in China in mind. It seems then that although the gallery is very young, it has its eyes set on creating as wide a dialogue as possible. If the art featured in the gallery’s opening is anything to go by, this does not seem to be a lost cause at all. Always diverse and by turns funny, surreal, critical and unsettling, these works are not to be missed.

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