HomePage Magazine Press
Ocula Magazine  |  Features   |  Exhibition
Feature  |  Exhibition

UCCA Edge Launches in Shanghai with Homage to 2000

By Hutch Wilco  |  Shanghai, 6 July 2021

Exhibition view: City on the Edge: Art and Shanghai at the Turn of the Millennium, UCCA Edge, Shanghai (22 May–11 July 2021). Courtesy UCCA Center for Contemporary Art.

Since Beijing-based UCCA Center for Contemporary Art announced a new satellite museum in 2019, the opening of UCCA Edge in Shanghai has been hotly anticipated.

Positioned as a 'stylish hub for urban elites,'1 the name refers to the museum's location by Suzhou Creek, which coincidentally marks the historic boundary of the city's International Settlement and the surrounding Chinese controlled areas. It also suggests the peripherality of the new museum in relation to Beijing's centrality.

A Lightbox installation by Shi Yong features stacked screens in a darkened exhibition space.

Shi Yong, Gravitation – Shanghai Night Sky (2003–2004). Lightbox installation, metal frame, translucent acrylic film, acrylic board, fluorescent tubes, lightboxes. 556 × 50 × 239 cm. Exhibition view: City on the Edge: Art and Shanghai at the Turn of the Millennium, UCCA Edge, Shanghai (22 May–11 July 2021). Courtesy UCCA Center for Contemporary Art.

UCCA Edge is the third branch after the museum's original location in Beijing's 798 Art District and a sister-site on the beach in Beidaihe, and strikes quite the contrast to its predecessors, taking up three floors of a newly built office tower designed by Brooklyn architects, SO – IL.

Arguably, it isn't entirely easy to like: a big, New York-style statement building in the form of a glassy stack of boxes. The overwhelming impression as one ascends the long, illuminated escalator is of a high-end retail experience. Alighting the foyer, this sense is reinforced: low white ceilings; flat LED lighting; large, low-contrast floor tiles; muted white walls interrupted by narrow views to the outside—the feeling is, well, pharmaceutical.

Two installation artworks in a bright exhibition space feature, to the left, a screen that shows a man sitting in an armchair, with a sculpture of two legs standing upright to the right of the space.

Exhibition view: City on the Edge: Art and Shanghai at the Turn of the Millennium, UCCA Edge, Shanghai (22 May–11 July 2021). Courtesy UCCA Center for Contemporary Art.

With only 1,700 square metres of display area, most with the kind of low ceilings more appropriate to an office plan, how space dictates form is already evident in the inaugural exhibition, City on the Edge: Art and Shanghai at the Turn of the Millennium (22 May–11 July 2021).

The show begins with Huang Yong Ping's Bank of Sand, Sand of Bank (2000), a large disintegrating sand sculpture of the 1923 HSBC headquarters on the Bund, boxed in awkwardly in the lobby. While this placement at the entrance to an exhibition in which the 3rd Shanghai Biennale in 2000 is a significant curatorial touchstone makes sense—Huang's is the only work from that exhibition to feature—this is also the only location it seems to physically fit.

A bank building made of sand by Huang Yong Ping is assembled in the exhibition space. Some of the sand is crumbling to the floor.

Huang Yong Ping, Bank of Sand, Sand of Bank (2000). Sand and cement. 350 × 600 × 430 cm. Exhibition view: City on the Edge: Art and Shanghai at the Turn of the Millennium, UCCA Edge, Shanghai (22 May–11 July 2021).Collection of Guanyi Art Archive, Beijing. Courtesy Shen Yuan and UCCA Center for Contemporary Art.

As a whole, City on the Edge locates itself at a critical juncture in the development of China's art ecology, specifically with the 3rd Shanghai Biennale in 2000 and the wave of new institutions, events, and peripheral exhibitions that emerged around that time. None more significant than Fuck Off (known in Chinese as 不合作方式 , 'An Uncooperative Approach'), the now apocryphal satellite exhibition curated by Feng Boyi and Ai Weiwei.

A three-channel video installation by Yang Fudong features one smiling woman on the far-left screen, and two women looking at the camera from above to the far-right.

Yang Fudong, Flutter, Flutter... Jasmine, Jasmine (2002). Three-channel video, colour, sound. 18 min. Music composed by Lin Di, Su Yong. Exhibition view: City on the Edge: Art and Shanghai at the Turn of the Millennium, UCCA Edge, Shanghai (22 May–11 July 2021). Courtesy UCCA Center for Contemporary Art.

In Fuck Off, a then-unknown Yang Fudong presented 'The First intellectual' (2000), a photographic series that was quickly removed by the Cultural Bureau as 'pornographic', in part because one image featured a young man in a torn suit standing in front of the then-new Jinmao Tower, covered in blood and brandishing a brick. The juxtaposition of the symbol of state-sanctioned capitalism with violence proved too much.

Here, Yang presents Flutter, Flutter... Jasmine Jasmine (2002), a three-channel video that offers a vision of young lovers illustrating the words of a romantic song while looking headlong into the future against the backdrop of Shanghai. Yang's less-than-promising vision of Jinmao Tower is replaced by Andreas Gursky's staged photograph of the building's interior, a paean to its glittering opulence (Shanghai, 2000).

A photograph by Andreas Gursky features the golden interior of a corporate tower.

Andreas Gursky, Shanghai (2000). Inkjet print. 308 × 205 × 6.2 cm. Courtesy the artist, VG Bild-Kunst, and Sprüth Magers. Exhibition view: City on the Edge: Art and Shanghai at the Turn of the Millennium, UCCA Edge, Shanghai (22 May–11 July 2021). Courtesy UCCA Center for Contemporary Art.

The exhibition can sometimes make tenuous connections, suggesting that Gursky's image is melancholy—no longer the tallest structure in Pudong, it is 'merely existing within a larger neighbourhood'—which it is not. But it does provide an opportunity to include Gursky, one of the international artists to have appeared in the 2000 Shanghai Biennale, in this show.

Other international artists connected to this edition include William Kentridge, who is showing a new animation, Sibyl (2021), based on the libretto for his chamber opera Waiting for the Sibyl (2019). Alluding to the myth of the Cumean Sybil, a prophetess who would write one's fortune on the swirling oak leaves littering her cave floor, the film is a melodic meditation on unknowable futures.

A video installation by William Kentridge presents a book, with the left-hand page covered in words in capital letters and in parentheses that read 'But It Is Not Nothing', while the right-hand page shows the profile of an elderly woman with their face lowered.

William Kentridge, Sibyl (2020). Single-channel HD video, colour, sound. 9 min 59 sec. Exhibition view: City on the Edge: Art and Shanghai at the Turn of the Millennium, UCCA Edge, Shanghai (22 May–11 July 2021).Courtesy UCCA Center for Contemporary Art.

Matthew Barney, who debuted in the 2000 Shanghai Biennale with Cremaster 4 (1994), the first in the acclaimed 'Cremaster Cycle', is represented with one of his recent water-cast sculptures from the series 'Khepera' (2016/2021), surrounded by a suite of electro-formed copper etchings, related to the films River of Fundament (2014) and Redoubt (2019).

...the excitement and boisterous bottom-up activity that emerged in the period that City on the Edge draws from quickly gave way to sanctioned spaces and culture parks: 'formalized area[s] with a visible, almost aggressive, branding strategy.'

The decision to present new works by these artists rather than those first seen in 2000 is puzzling, though both Kentridge and Barney have been the subjects of solo exhibitions with UCCA Beijing in 2015 and 2019 respectively, which may explain their inclusion over other major international artists who appeared in the 2000 event.

A six-channel video installation by Yang Zhenzhong features six different individuals standing upright on one screen each, each against a black background.

Yang Zhenzhong, Disinfect (2015). Six-channel HD video installation, colour, silent. 15 min. 181 × 111 cm x 6. Exhibition view: City on the Edge: Art and Shanghai at the Turn of the Millennium, UCCA Edge, Shanghai (22 May–11 July 2021). Courtesy UCCA Center for Contemporary Art.

Among the looser Biennale connections is Yan Lei's 'The Fifth System' (2004), a series of beautiful monochrome paintings of seemingly innocuous nature scenes, however the detail of a low wall in the background provides further context.

In 2003, Yan participated in the exhibition The Fifth System: Public Art in the Age of Post-Planning at Shenzhen Art Museum. His work, a response to the hyperdrive development of Shenzhen since its designation as a Special Economic Zone, involved convincing local authorities to wall off a plot of land the size of a football field in the most expensive district for the two-year duration of the exhibition, naturally bringing him into conflict with developers. While the parallels with development in Shanghai are clear, the real connection is more prosaic—Hou Hanru, curator of the 3rd Shanghai Biennale, curated The Fifth System.

A cast zinc sculpture by Matthew Barney is spherical in structure, appearing to have parts missing from it. The sculpture is placed on a cast zinc wooden crate.

Matthew Barney, Khepera (2016/2021). Cast zinc. 185.4 × 177.8 × 165.1 cm. Exhibition view: City on the Edge: Art and Shanghai at the Turn of the Millennium, UCCA Edge, Shanghai (22 May–11 July 2021). Courtesy the artist, Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels, and UCCA Center for Contemporary Art.

Apart from the Biennale serving as a key reference to bind the assembled works together, City on the Edge can feel like little more than a collection of works related to the period or the city—a collection of old friends. This would be fine, given director and curator Philip Tinari described the curatorial intent elsewhere as a 'love letter to millennial Shanghai.'2 Yet the central thesis feels unnecessarily overburdened.

Architect and author Ying Zhou posited that the 3rd Shanghai Biennale represented 'the state's appropriation of contemporary art as an alibi for demonstrating its open-mindedness,'3 and that Fuck Off was essentially reactionary. If so, then City on the Edge resonates more with the former.

A painting by Yu Youhan with different figures outlined in white against a black background, hanging against a creme wall in the gallery space.

Yu Youhan, Black Painting (2000). Acrylic on canvas. 227 × 182 cm. Exhibition view: City on the Edge: Art and Shanghai at the Turn of the Millennium, UCCA Edge, Shanghai (22 May–11 July 2021). Courtesy UCCA Center for Contemporary Art.

Still, some inclusions, such as Zhou Tiehai's Buy Happiness/ You Can't Grow Healthy and Strong Without the Godfather's Protection (1997), Yu Youhan's Black Painting (2000), and a suite of paintings by Zhang Enli and Ding Yi fit so perfectly that they begin to feel like fan servicing. Zhang Enli's expressive 'Hair' portraits (2001/2002) are particular delights.

Xu Zhen, one of the youngest artists to participate in Fuck Off, also featured in Biennale satellite exhibitions, Useful Life (2000) and the Fan Mingzhen & Fan Mingzhu – Glad to Meet You (2002). The two works inject some much-needed elan into this 2021 tribute. Shouting (1998/2021) is filmed from the point of view of an anonymous actor who appears in various public spaces and unleashes a primal scream, usually to the brief shock and amusement of passersby. Provocative and childishly amusing, it is a simple act of assertion—a common theme throughout Xu's work.

A video projection artwork by artist Xu Zhen, projected high near the ceiling against a concrete wall

Xu Zhen, Shouting (1998/2005). Edited 2021. Single-channel video, colour, sound. 15 min 19 sec. Exhibition view: City on the Edge: Art and Shanghai at the Turn of the Millennium, UCCA Edge, Shanghai (22 May–11 July 2021). Courtesy UCCA Center for Contemporary Art.

Recreated for UCCA Beijing in 2014, March 6 (2002/2021), which was in Fan Mingzhen & Fan Mingzhu – Glad to Meet You sees dozens of performers, dressed in pyjamas similar to those worn by psychiatric patients, selecting members of the public to follow around the gallery. They do not make eye contact and they remain at a distance, shadowing each visitor until they leave.

Xu Zhen's intervention upends the usual conditions of gallery-going in a way that is at once vaguely aggressive and absurd. But this current epoch of mask wearing and social distancing adds an altogether different layer of meaning: the public sphere is no longer as it once was. Shared spaces harbour unacknowledged menace.

Seven photographs in varying hues of blue, purple, and yellow feature trees and outdoors landscapes, hanging on a wall in the background. In the foreground, a pedestal sits beneath a series of metallic bottles placed at varying heights.

Exhibition view: City on the Edge: Art and Shanghai at the Turn of the Millennium, UCCA Edge, Shanghai (22 May–11 July 2021). Courtesy UCCA Center for Contemporary Ar.

Continuing the theme of rapid change are five photographs from Canadian photographer Greg Girard's 'Phantom Shanghai' series (2001–2007), which record the last houses left within demolished blocks in the city. Eerily lit, they are haunting and familiar—such places still exist. Breathtaking as they are, though, it is hard not to think of a number of local photographers who meet the terms of reference for the exhibition and are nonetheless unrepresented.

Five photographs by Greg Girard show houses amidst rubble and derelict settings, shot at nighttime.

Greg Girard, 'Phantom Shanghai' (2001–2007). Exhibition view: City on the Edge: Art and Shanghai at the Turn of the Millennium, UCCA Center for Contemporary Art, Shanghai (22 May–11 July 2021). Courtesy UCCA Edge.

Even before it arrived, the 2000 Shanghai Biennale was cast as historic: the first state-organised exhibition of contemporary art to invite international artists and curators, dealing with a broad range of social issues such as globalisation and post-colonialism. As the Biennale's artistic committee director Fang Zengxian, wrote: 'The significance of [the Biennale's] success will far transcend the exhibition itself.'4

However, as art historian Wu Hung pointed out on the event, 'Practical matters . . . dominated the discussions; the exhibition's content and contribution to art itself attracted much less attention.'5 Likewise, while UCCA Edge clearly intends to position itself as a descendant of this landmark moment in contemporary Chinese art, similarly divergent positions could be carved out for the meaning and magnitude of its arrival.

A series of three paintings in red and green are hang along the walls in a bright gallery space.

Exhibition view: City on the Edge: Art and Shanghai at the Turn of the Millennium, UCCA Edge, Shanghai (22 May–11 July 2021). Courtesy UCCA Center for Contemporary Art.

As commentators like Ying Zhou have argued, the excitement and boisterous bottom-up activity that emerged in the period that City on the Edge draws from quickly gave way to sanctioned spaces and culture parks: 'formalized area[s] with a visible, almost aggressive, branding strategy.'6 Alternative activities succumbed to the state, becoming commercialised and gentrified to ensure their survival. It is difficult not to view UCCA Edge within the context of this process. —[O]


1 UCCA Edge marketing, http://www.edge-sh.com/en/overview.html

2 Oliver Giles, 'How UCCA Center For Contemporary Art's Expansion Project Is Bringing New Life To Shanghai's Art Scene', Tatler, 4 January 2021, https://hk.asiatatler.com/life/ucca-center-for-contemporary-art-shanghai

3 Ying Zhou, Growing Ecologies of Contemporary Art: Vignettes from Shanghai, (University of California Press: 2015).

4 Preface, Shanghai Biennale 2000, exhibition catalogue (Shanghai Art Publishing House, Shanghai: 2000).

5 Wu Hung, 'The Shanghai Biennale 2000: The Making of a Historical Event in Chinese Contemporary Art', Making History: Wu Hung on Contemporary Art, (Timezone 8, Beijing: 2008).

6 Ibid.

Continue reading article
Sign up to be notified when new articles like this one are published in Ocula Magazine.
Sign Up