Review: “Chen Wei: More”

“Chen Wei: More”, solo exhibition

LEO XU PROJECTS (Lane 49, Building 3, Fuxing Xi Road, Xuhui District, Shanghai). June 3 to August 5, 2012.

Chen Wei is known for creating constructed environments which combine 1960s decor and a variety of different props, suitcases, shards of mirror and, most strikingly, taxidermied animals — flocks of frenzied bats and herds of cattle.

Series such as Pain KillerSand and Nobody and Everyday Scene and Props (which have all been exhibited in the past at m97 Gallery) helped the artist garner attention earlier on in his career, and though small versions of some of these earlier works are displayed in Polaroid form on the top floor of the gallery, their diminutive size makes it hard to appreciate their beauty.

This new body of works claims to be more painterly in nature, but the real draw is Chen Wei’s knack for creating truncated narratives, which speak in the quiet vague voice of the past tense.  Perhaps the most striking of these is “Fragile,” which confronts the viewer upon entering the gallery with an image of a pair of 60s-era glasses sitting on a green background with the lenses completely blown out. Shards of glass fan out from the center of each eye as if the wearer had beheld some unimaginable sight or perhaps fired an incredibly dirty look at someone from across the room.

This makes a nice pairing with “Figured Cloth” — an empty buffet table soiled by the feverish grasping of a crowd which, in the process of filling their plates, has left the table cloth mottled with stains. Picking up on this same sense of mob frenzy is “Broken Tomato” where a T-shirt stretched over a chair is smeared with the blood of a number of projectile fruits.

The show is tied together with the theme of “past battles” and it often seems like there is no clear winner. We see this in “Ping Pong” (a ping-pong table made from a door topped with a cardboard net) surrounded by countless dented ping-pong balls. Did this match end in frustration, violence or merely a warm handshake and an invitation to dinner? Such questions hang in the air immobilized like Chen Wei’s taxidermied animals.

Chen Wei’s work is defined by these pregnant pauses, the moments of rigid stillness. This is captured most dramatically in “A Kind of Measuration,” where a man sits atop a ladder which stands upright despite having no other leg to support it. With the golden sunlight in the background and the cold glare of the light on his face, the figure looks as if he has half of his body in a photography studio, the other half outside in the real world. This tension between the two different casts of light creates the impression that the man is trapped between two different dimensions  — supposedly looking into the future but at the same time, not really looking at anything in particular. This reminds us again of the shattered glasses. Perhaps the road of the future was more easily picked out in the 60s. Now our view of that road is obscured by luxury apartments and a thick blanket of haze.

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