Catch as Catch Can: Beating the Man to Shanghai’s Most Wanted Art

The China Travel blog reported in November on a gallery show in Shanghai that was closed down during the Shanghai Biennale. It was allowed to reopen after the Shanghai Expo closed:

During the casual talk, the man pictured above (“the Man,” from here on out) slipped into the gallery, promptly planting himself in front of Wu Meng’s four “Gravity” photographs, which show items of women’s laundry hanging in disconcerting fashion before images of Shanghai’s Lujiazui, Lupu Bridge and a demolition site. Inscribed with Chinese texts that, Catching writes, “are purposely oblique—as part of her strategy in talking about…media reports of women being taken advantage of, raped and murdered in massage parlors.”

The Man patiently copied those texts into his notebook before moving on to scrutinize the rest of the show, only to return for more time with “Gravity.” Meanwhile, the gallery talk and tour continued. For me, stationed just outside on the sidewalk, it was a bizarrely theatrical moment, with the Man moving deliberately—and, given the paranoia-inducing circumstances, quite sinisterly—through the gallery space as a small group of actual gallery goers (almost entirely women, by the way) listened intently to Catching’s curatorial talk, apparently oblivious to the Man in their midst.

As it turned out, Wu Meng’s texts were apparently not oblique enough, nor was Cui Xiuwen’s controversial “Lady’s” video, which, to quote the artist, captures footage of “a group of ‘ladies of the night’ in the washroom of a luxury night club in Beijing.” Cui’s video showed without major incident at the Guangzhou Triennale, but it was, apparently, too much for Shanghai.

Monika’s lecture went on elsewhere, successfully—and not without a bit of dramatic frisson and plenty of far-reaching irony given the shadow the Cultural Bureau cast over the entire affair—but the next day we learned that a squad of ten (!) members of various government organs showed up at the gallery to remove the work of Wu Meng and Cui Xiuwen. What happens next? Well… part of the thing about being in China is dealing in one way or another with opaque authoritarian decision-making, often combined with lengthy periods of suspenseful (or boring, yet somehow interestingly boring) waiting. In the meantime, Shanghai galleries have been put on notice (apparently Art Labor 2.0 was also paid a visit by the Man and ordered to remove pieces from Lu Yang’s “Hell” show).


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