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Shanghai Kaleidoscope Opens at The Royal Ontario Museum

TORONTO.- The Institute for Contemporary Culture (ICC) at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) presents Shanghai Kaleidoscope from May 4, 2008 to November 2, 2008. Organized by the ICC at the ROM and guest-curated by Christopher Phillips of New York’s International Center for Photography, the exhibition will offer an unprecedented view of one of the world's most dynamic cities, highlighting an emerging generation of Chinese artists, architects and fashion designers. The exhibition, presented by Manulife Financial, will be on display in the ICC’s Roloff Beny Gallery on Level 4 of the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal.

Shanghai Kaleidoscope focuses on the key aspects of the city’s vibrant culture: architecture, urban design, contemporary art, cinema and fashion. Working with the ICC, curatorial consultant Christopher Phillips has created the world’s first exhibition that examines the city’s fascinating and quick reconfiguration as a 21st century city through an adventurous mix of video installations, photo-works, designer fashion apparel, runway videos and films by Shanghai's leading contemporary artists and designers. The exhibition provides an insider's view of the city’s high-speed, high-density, high-rise culture, seen from the vantage point of those who are taking part in its astonishing transformation and growth.

“We’re pleased to present these impressive works by some of China’s most talented contemporary artists and designers,” said William Thorsell, ROM Director and CEO. “The spacious, angular ICC gallery will provide a dramatic backdrop to evoke the energy and vitality of contemporary Shanghai for the ROM’s visitors.

Since the early 1990s, Shanghai has been one of the world’s fastest-changing cities. In the last ten years, approximately 60% of the old city has been razed and covered with new construction. Thousands of skyscrapers have been erected, a new subway system built, an ultramodern international airport and numerous new bridges and tunnels have been constructed. With 20 million inhabitants, it has become China’s largest, most dynamic and globally connected city. This rush to economic power has encouraged the rise of a remarkable cultural life.

“Shanghai, a city with a legendary past, is fast becoming Asia’s centre for imaginative art, architecture, and fashion,” said Christopher Phillips, one of the world’s leading experts on contemporary Chinese culture. “By exploring the latest directions taken by Shanghai’s most creative young talents, the ICC exhibition will bring the extraordinary sights and sounds of contemporary Shanghai to Toronto.”

“Manulife is proud to sponsor Shanghai Kaleidoscope. As a company with our Chinese headquarters in Shanghai, we are struck by the rapid transformation taking place,” said Donald Guloien, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Investment Officer, Manulife Financial. “We are delighted to help bring this important showcase of Shanghai’s vibrant culture to the Royal Ontario Museum.”

About the exhibition:

A vibrant contemporary art scene has arisen in Shanghai since the mid-1990s and numerous art galleries and centres are constantly being built or expanded to support the art boom. Many of the exhibition’s works, ranging from realistic imagery to more experimental pieces, juxtapose historic Shanghai with the emergence of the modern city, illustrating the changes made to the urban fabric of Shanghai and commenting on the impact this new city has on its inhabitants.

Artist Shi Yong, a Shanghai native, has witnessed his city’s transformation, now boasting more than 4,000 skyscrapers (twice as many as New York). For the artist, the city appears as a kind of virtual-reality, populated with “mirage-like” buildings. In Gravity: Shanghai Night Sky (2004), he responds to this phenomenon by creating a two-metre high by five-metre wide (7.8-ft by 18-ft) configuration of 56 lightbox-mounted photographic transparencies. A short video entitled Crumpling Shanghai (2000) by Song Dong captures the artist abruptly crumpling white sheets of paper that show contemporary Shanghai street scenes. This series of disappearing images suggest the fragility and transience of urban life.

Shen Fan, a Shanghai painter whose minimalist, monochromatic shapes often suggest natural forms, has created a smaller version of his monumental neon installation that was originally presented at the 2006 Shanghai Biennale. The piece, entitled Landscape: Commemorating Huang Binhong (small version, 2008), is a “painting” composed of 360 neon tubes designed to suggest both the short brushstrokes reminiscent of traditional Chinese ink painting as well as contemporary Shanghai’s neon-illuminated nightscape. The work is dedicated to the celebrated artist Huang Binhong (1864-1955), one of the leading 20th-century innovators in traditional Chinese painting, who was famous for his freehand landscapes.

Yang Zhenzhong’s short video loop Light and Easy 2 (2002) depicts the artist attempting to balance on his fingertip a skyscraper in Shanghai’s Pudong area, the financial district located on the east side of the Huangpu River. His piece explores the idea of how “effortlessly” the city’s residents have adapted to the rapid urban development, while also hinting at the topsy-turvy quality of the new landscape. Visitors can experience Yang Zhenzhong’s Let’s Puff (2002) by walking between two large video screens. This installation creates a visual metaphor for the winds of change that have swept through China’s cities during the past decade. On one side a woman inhales and exhales with great force. At each exhalation, a central Shanghai street scene suddenly accelerates on the opposite screen.

A three-screen video installation entitled Flutter, Flutter, Jasmine, Jasmine (2002) by Yang Fudong tells a fictitious and fragmented story about a Chinese couple living in one of Shanghai’s high rises. The characters speak frankly to the camera about their insecurities and at the end they pledge their love to one another from the building’s rooftop. The video sequence contrasts their naïve idealism with images of the city’s harsh landscape. Visitors can also experience a short silent film entitled Site Specific_SHANGHAI 04 (2004) by Italian artist Olivo Barbieri. Shanghai’s landscape has drastically changed since he first visited there almost 20 years ago. The artist films these dramatic changes to the city’s landscape from a helicopter. He intentionally avoids the most famous sites and instead presents a sprawling city through anonymous 30- and 40-story buildings.

Another section features the work of three contemporary Chinese fashion designers, accompanied with runway videos. Wang Yiyang, one of China’s most internationally acclaimed young fashion designers, employs a modern approach to traditional Chinese garments, such as his summer 2005 collection entitled Blue, made of the blue fabric favoured by Chinese living in rural areas. Here he presents his Spring 2008 fashion designs. Zhang Da’s designs combine the traditional Chinese method of flat cutting with a style that employs minimal cuts and stitches without using darts. Gao Xin, one of Shanghai’s emerging designers, has a reputation for edgy, urban fashion that appeals to a youthful clientele. His Even Penniless line is known for a deconstructed masculine silhouette in women’s clothing with imaginative zippers, buttons and ribbon. On display here are his Winter 2008 designs.

The exhibition also offers a selection of photographic and film experiences. Beijing artist Shi Guorui uses the camera obscura technique to create large haunting silver gelatin prints of contemporary Shanghai entitled Shanghai, April 8-9, 2005 (2005) and Shanghai 1, August 18-19, 2004 (2004). These negative prints were created over an eight-hour exposure from a hotel window overlooking the banks of the Huangpu River. Crystal CG, one of China's most innovative digital multimedia companies, has created the computer

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