Don Gallery (Unit 26, 1331 Middle Fuxing Road, Shanghai) Nov 7, 2015–Jan 5, 2016
The Blackstone Apartments on Shanghai’s Fuxing Middle Road are easier to find these days, thanks to the opening of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra’s lively concert hall opposite. In what feels like a flash, several years have passed since Don Gallery moved from its space on Huaihai Road, next to the former residence of Soong Ching-ling, to its new space. When it was at its original size of 140 square meters, Shanghai’s art scene seemed far less vibrant than it is now, with its new art museums, art fairs, and galleries. On opening night, most of the people smoking out on the second floor terrace were spectators visiting the gallery. The three showrooms and office still retained the layout of the original apartments. Completely whitewashed walls accompanied by white fluorescent lighting further enhanced the “white cube” ambiance.
“Trails”, Su Chang’s newest solo exhibition at Don Gallery, presents a series of new works that are very different from his previous sculptures of realistic and abstract cityscapes. In the main gallery, four white columns divide up the space, their size making the room feel insufficient to fully support the field they form. The sheer scale of these columns, when compared to the hyper-realist cityscape micro-sculptures of Su’s early years (extremely life-like, detailed renderings of buildings, trees, and so on), seem to have lost the critical force Su wields when he exposes the macro via the micro. The artist has deliberately scored cracks in the surfaces of the columns, but compared with those enduring stains on the sides of buildings, or the thick piles of dust covering vegetation on the sides of elevated highways, these new details have negligible appeal. The enlarged white columns, though still a continuation of the artist’s keen insight into the the status quo of urban existence, create in their size an imbalance, preventing the full release of his vision.
Among the works shown are experiments with new materials, including asphalt and aluminum. The size of these attempts similarly hangs in doubt. Three aluminum works are the same size as the raw material Su Chang brought back from the store. Flat, square asphalt sculptures are a bit of a far cry shape-wise from “trails,” though the two share common materials. Meanwhile, the manhole cover in the corner, the face of wool nailed to the wall, and the foot carved from red brick appear more like exercises in pondering readymades.
In the lead up to this exhibition, Su Chang was in Scotland participating in the Glenfiddich Artists Residency program, where he stayed for three months. This show is a continuation of Don Gallery’s collaboration with Glenfiddich. Two other works shown are an aluminum plate on which a hammer’s indentations form “raindrops,”(“Angry Raindrops”, 2015) and a wall piece on which is hammered a smile of blossoms and bats (“Mocking Wall”), as if to transmit associations to his experience in residency in Scotland when he was up close with nature. Ultimately, however, the body of work shown in this exhibition is more like a recollection or rehearsal of the artist’s residency itself, offering little to deepen the artist’s creative practice of comparing and investigating urban experience. Especially now that all of these works have been placed in an immaculately clean white gallery space, they are stripped down: lost to the original significance of what they had meant to tell us.