“Itinerant Dieties,” a solo exhibition by Hu Xiangcheng (胡项成).
Shanghai Gallery of Art (No. 3 on the Bund, 3 Zhongshan Dong Yi Road, Shanghai). From October 20 to January 5, 2011.
Hu Xiangcheng asks poignant questions about the place of spirituality in contemporary life, examining how once-revered idols have been discarded and then seized by other cultures for wholly different purposes, i.e. as anthropological artifacts in Western museums or architectural flourishes used to hawk Chinese luxury apartments.
Though the idea is certainly intriguing, something is lacking in the execution, especially in “Foreign Icons in Contemporary Buildings,” a city-like cluster of fluorescent-yellow plexiglass boxes plastered with Greek gods. In fact much of the show feels as if he is merely collecting archival material to prove his point and just dumping it there without doing much with it.
But we can forgive him for the sophistication of his conceptual trajectory. He takes us from prehistoric life (two giant dinosaurs), to the early days of man with almost primitive paintings, to Greek Mythology, to more formalized religions (such as Buddhism and Taoism), and finally to our atheistic contemporary society.
In formal and conceptual terms, perhaps the most interesting piece is “Ambiguous Architecture,” a multi-layered red plywood shrine perforated with randomly placed square holes. This niche however is a godless one, which signals its emptiness with a syncopated flash of orange lights, the ones found on construction barricades. Standing in front of it, we’re drawn into the howling emptiness of the spiritual void, and wonder what indeed we are trying to construct.