Tank Shanghai – No Longer “Under Construction”

View of Tank Shanghai
Portrait of Qiao Zhibing, the founder of Tank Shanghai. Courtesy of Qiao Space.
Adrián Villar Rojas’ solo show, ‘Sometimes you wonder, in an interconnected universe, who is dreaming who?’, at TANK Shanghai from 23 March to 24 August 2019. Courtesy of TANK Shanghai.
‘Under Construction’ at TANK Shanghai, 23 March to 24 August 2019. Courtesy of TANK Shanghai.
‘Under Construction’ at TANK Shanghai, 23 March to 24 August 2019. Courtesy of TANK Shanghai.
Courtesy of teamLab and Tank Shanghai.
Courtesy of teamLab and Tank Shanghai.
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For its inauguration, Qiao Zhibing’s Tank, Shanghai stages three starkly contrasting exhibitions in a truly unique space. Here is our review on  teamLab’s and Adrian Villar Roja’s installations and “Under Construction” – a group show featuring the unfinished/uncharacteristic works by a group of established male Chinese artists.

Text: Maya Kramer
Images: Courtesy of Tank Shanghai

View of Tank Shanghai

 

Spring has sprung in Shanghai and among the blossoms bursting along the Westbund cultural corridor a new and significant addition to the cultural landscape has just opened for business. Tanks Shanghai premiered in late March of this year, the brainchild of the high-profile collector Qiao Zhibing it is the area’s newest private museum to be developed along the banks of the Huangpu river as part of a massive waterfront revitalization scheme. Tanks takes its place alongside the Long Museum, Puxi and the Yuz Museum Shanghai, opened in 2014 and similarly built by private collectors at the behest of the government.  The combined presence of these cultural institutions along with annual Westbund Art Fair and the surrounding galleries and center for photography, establishes this region as Shanghai’s most concentrated destination for Modern and contemporary art.  That the Westbund Art museum, designed by the architect David Chipperfield and centrally positioned within this nexus of new institutions, is slated to open shortly and comes with programming from the Centre Pompidou, will further enhance the cultural draw of this area.

The redevelopment of the Westbund waterfront follows the now twenty-year-old model of using culture as a revitalization tool and the repurposing of old industrial architectural into arts destinations. When Gehry’s Guggenheim Bilbao, 1999, transformed the former struggling industrial port town into a glittering and economically prosperous worldwide destination for culture, cities around the globe took note.  If the Long Museum sits on a former coal depot and retains some of its original features, and the Yuz is a former airplane hangar redesigned by Sou Fujimoto; Tanks are a group of former oil storage facilities reimagined in a delightfully quirky manner by OPEN architecture’s power couple and principle founders Li Hu and Huang Wenjing. The massive, rotund and hollow forms rise from the ground, refit with playfully rounded entranceways and windows that lend the structures a retro/futurist air. The most ingenious aspect of the project, though, is how the architects have linked the tanks together—through an L-shaped glass and steel building, mostly sunk into the landscaping featuring a wide-open public plaza that adjoins the museum’s entrance. The plaza and the entrance space are expansive and light-filled, and the stairs and ramps framing the entrance to each tank creates an anticipatory atmosphere around these unorthodox spaces.

 

Portrait of Qiao Zhibing, the founder of Tank Shanghai. Courtesy of Qiao Space.

 

For its inaugural show, the museum staged three vastly different exhibitions in the tanks.  Adrián Villa Rojas’s grand installation ‘Sometimes you wonder, in an interconnected universe, who is dreaming who”; a group show featuring lesser-known, unfinished or uncharacteristic works by well-known mostly male Chinese artists entitled, poignantly, “Under construction’; and teamLab’s interactive and immersive extravaganza, “Universe of Water Particles in the Tank”. The distinct qualities of each show feel a bit schizophrenic, but this may be a strategy to attract a variety of visitors.

The tank that houses the Villa Rojas most echoes its industrial past, in part because of the tenor of the artworks placed within.  Its vast interior is lit by a small oculus at the structure’s apex which casts an eerie glow over its contents.  A small replica of something akin to a mars rover set in an arid landscape has, behind it, an over-sized painted reproduction of a cro-magnon man.  Graffiti and cave-like paintings comingle on the opposite side of the painted image.   A shell encrusted Duchamp readymade lookalike is sealed in an eerily lit vitrine, and a dust encrusted sculpture of a figure is placed on a pedestal made of stone embedded with fossils of simple lifeforms that inhabited the world millions of years ago. Taken in total, these curious objects hint at humanity’s origins, accomplishments and future-development/maybe ruin.  While the overall effect piques the interest, it does not entirely sustain it.

 

Adrián Villar Rojas’ solo show, ‘Sometimes you wonder, in an interconnected universe, who is dreaming who?’, at TANK Shanghai from 23 March to 24 August 2019. Courtesy of TANK Shanghai.

 

In the second tank, the space is reconfigured to two floors and features unfinished, or lesser known works by well-known Chinese artists. A Hu Xiangqian multi-screen video work shows negligible, but strangely captivating, daily occurrences happening in an urban context. A painting by Liu Xiao Dong is partially ripped into shreds, courtesy of a truck accident that happened while he was painting on site.  The destruction makes the scene that Liu was painting, still partly rendered on the canvas, more vivid.  On the second floor, among printed images of Jia Ali’s works in his studio, is a large and recent Zheng Fanzhi that packs a punch.

 

‘Under Construction’ at TANK Shanghai, 23 March to 24 August 2019. Courtesy of TANK Shanghai.
‘Under Construction’ at TANK Shanghai, 23 March to 24 August 2019. Courtesy of TANK Shanghai.

 

teamLab’s over-the-top, digital kitsch, “Universe of Water Particles in a Tank” fills the third tank, and it is a stretch to call it art.  The founder of teamLab, Toshyuki Inoko is inspired by traditional Japanese paintings– the iconography of water, plants and flowers, an interest in seasonality and ephemerality, and the gold and silver leaf employed in such works—and has translated these traits to the digital/interactive realm.  Viewers enter the darkened tanks to find projections of a mélange of evolving flora.  The projection is not static, as the ceiling is outfitted with sensors that pickup audience movements and adjust the image in real-time based on viewer proximity and whether he or she tries to ‘touch’ the image. This is almost a textbook version of kitsch extended through technology.  There is a myriad of paradigms that could be hauled in to make the case that this work, while momentarily entertaining, is ultimately short on meaning. It fits the description of a product born of the ‘the culture industry’ as defined by Adorno, and Greenberg’s definition of kitsch is also equally applicable to this work.  ‘Universe of Water Particles in a Tank’ also aligns with Baudrillard’s notion of simulacra, and it’s fitting that while in the ‘real’ world flora is being lost at an alarming rate, teamLab’s piece can endlessly ‘flourish and regenerate’.  As Baudrillard writes, “It is no longer a question of imitation, nor of reduplication, nor even of parody. It is rather a question of substituting signs of the real for the real itself; that is an operation to deter every real process by its operational double, a metastable, programatic, perfect descriptive machine that provides all the signs of the real and short-circuits all its vicissitudes.”[1]

 

Courtesy of teamLab and Tank Shanghai.
Courtesy of teamLab and Tank Shanghai.

 

Though the programming was not revelatory, the architectural aspect of Tanks and the exceptional public space it has created is a feat.  Overall, Shanghai’s newest addition to its ‘museum mile’ is a significant achievement.

 

 

Under Construction
Tank Shanghai
March 23 – August 24th 2019

 

 

[1] Jean Baudrillard, “Simulacra and Simulations,” in Jean Baudrillard Selected Writings, ed. Mark Poster (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988), 166-184.

 

 


 

Maya Kramer is an artist, an independent art writer and arts project coordinator. She was based in New York City for nine years during which time she worked in the curatorial department of the Guggenheim Museum and for private collectors. In 2010 she moved to Shanghai, and has since exhibited internationally in conjunction with institutions such the Hong Kong Arts Centre (Hong Kong) and the Van Abbe Museum (Eindhoven, Holland) among others. She is the recipient of the Jacob Javits Fellowship, her works have been featured in media such as Fortune Art, Randian and Blouin Art Info, and she has written for The Shanghai Gallery of Art, Artlink, and Bank Gallery. She currently lives and works in Shanghai, China.

 

 

 
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