28 Chinese is an exhibition dedicated to artworks selected in China by the Rubell Family during 11 years of studio visits.The show is part of a sun-kissed Art Basel edition that seems to pay homage to Chinese art. For example, even the brand new museum of contemporary Art PAMM, opens with a retrospective to artist Ai Wei Wei.The artist in the family, Jennifer Rubell, celebrates the Rubell opening every year with a breakfast performance. She always invents new large-scale interactive food projects.This year she introduces Faith a smorgasbord of hundreds of Chinese egg tarts served on a massive white teeterboard. The eggs on the table fluctuate in height and the teeterboard moves back and forth like a giant seesaw.As a result the egg tarts on the table move back and forth in a sort of hypnotic dance. ‘Have you tried the art?’ is a frequent question I heard in the crowd. In the meanwhile, Jennifer Rubell shines with exuberance and lets the photographer take pictures of her.In front of Faith there’s a fiberglass figure called Joseph Beuys & Mao Zedong, 2007 as part of the installation Rent Rent by Li Zhanyang. Beuys seems to indicate something to Mao, with a gesture of his arm. He is explaining the artistic and social plastic content in front of them to the Chinese leader. Li Zhanyang is referring to Beuys’s solo exhibition in How To Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare. Beuys is perhaps the most influential European artist in post-war Europe. Mao Zedong is absolutely the most important figure in Chinese post-war history.The exhibition is a voyage in the prolific visual and poetic Chinese imagination, the stories behind the creation of artwork became part of the process itself.One of these imaginative pieces is He Xiangyu, Cola Project- Extraction, 2009, displaying 10 wooden boxes with empty Coca-Cola bottles tagged with ‘time’ acquired in 2011.Cola Project started in 2009. In the open fields of his hometown Dandong, the artist built a stove, hired ten workers, and spent one and a half years to boil 127 tons of Coca-Cola to produce 90 tons of Coke residue. Coca-Cola and its notorious brand image is one of the most recognizable symbols of the global consumer culture.The boiling process from beverage to residue is a simple operation of material extraction that most people could figure out if given instructions.The artist’s major breakthrough was not the extraction itself but to bypass the supervision of the strict Coca-Cola distribution management system.After he acquired a huge amount of Coca-Cola and entered the boiling production stage, he was continually questioned and fined by the local public security bureau and the environmental protection administration. The police officers frequently stopped by Xiangyu atelier and investigated his curious operation.Chinese artists use Contemporary art to teach other about their steadfast traditions.The Longevity Paintings by Wang Guangle are an attempt to push the contemporary art circle to question time, repetition, abstraction, and even Zen.
Their art is part of a coffin paintings series. They refer to a practice in his native Fujian province in which elders will prepare their own caskets, when they feel sick, adding a layer of varnish to them with each passing year until they die. The result is that one color masks the next, with pigment layers stacking one upon the other.
Ton of Tea (2005) by Ai Wei Wei , is a compressed five-foot cube of Chinese loose tea.
The artist explains that in old times, building cubes of tea was the easiest way to carry it around. The artwork also references the iconic 1970 minimalist cubes of Donald Judd and Carl Andre.
The main theme is a cultural and social investigation of the artist’s generation marked by the passage from communism to the post-modern life. The passage occurred in just one generation and was handed down from parents to sons.
China is also one of the worst countries in the whole world for human rights, health care, and working conditions. It’s a place where individuality is lost among the crowd. It’s a country where an artist could easily be pointed as a dissident.
That’s the main focus of ZHANG HUAN, 12 Square Meters, his 1994 performance in a public toilet. The space is in impoverished area of Beijing where the abortions and female infanticides occurred under the Chinese government’s one child policy. The artist covered himself with honey and fish oil, sat motionless for several hours attracting flies and ants before emerging himself in a nearby river.
But the star of the show is Zhu Jinshi’s Boat : a monumental, walk-in installation composed of bamboo, cotton and 8,000 sheets of rice paper. Jinshi describes the boat as representing ‘a symbolic journey’. Numerous folds extend as walls, gently blocking out the outside world as each viewer moves through the seemingly endless the vacant tunnel. The sculptural work outwardly expresses the artist’s meticulous dedication to material, and his lifelong commitment to the language of abstract form.
by Fiammetta De Michele