Magazine article Artforum International

Wang Jianwei: Zendai Museum of Modern Art

Magazine article Artforum International

Wang Jianwei: Zendai Museum of Modern Art

Article excerpt

It is unsurprising that Wang Jianwei's epic solo show at Zendai MOMA, "Hostage," was inspired by a reading of the works of Pierre Bourdieu. Like Bourdieu, whose "theory of practice" was grounded in empirical data, Wang might also be considered a cultural sociologist of sorts, basing his theories and art on firsthand study. In his 1995 film Production, Wang's fly-on-the-wall observations of the flow of information among the patrons of a traditional Sichuan teahouse could be read as an endeavor more ethnographic than artistic. The same could be said of Living Elsewhere, Wang's 1998 video documenting the lives of migrant workers as they squatted in the concrete shells of Western-style villas--a construction project gone bankrupt--on the outskirts of Chengdu. In his latest solo show, based loosely on his communal farming experience during the Cultural Revolution, the artist posed the question: Are we hostage to our systems of knowledge and history?

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"Hostage" consisted of four disparate parts that occupied the entire museum. On the lower level, an ensemble of goofy sculptures, their aesthetic cues taken from a wide range of industrial to sci-fi sources, basked in theatrical spotlights. The centerpiece, General Report, 2008, was a long, multicolored mess of plumbing pipes, dials, and irrigation machinery that spewed what looked like a gooey white substance. This ambiguous polyurethane blob has made reoccurring appearances in Wang's recent sculptural work, and like the machinery parts below, it evokes the abject underside of a burgeoning materialistic culture. In my recent conversation with the artist, he stated that the equipment he used to compose the form hasn't changed since he worked with it thirty years ago on a farming commune. The implication was that while technology and modernization have done much for China, the culture still remains benighted by agricultural backwardness. …

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