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July 2008, Our Future @ UCCA


Installation view, Wang Du's tunnel, Courtesy UCCA

Our Future: a preview of the major new show at UCCA in Beijing.

On the same day news emerged that the Andy Warhol show planned by the Faurschou gallery in Beijing was banned by the Chinese Ministry of Culture the neighbouring Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) bravely went ahead and opened its doors to assembled art press, artists and interested parties for its show Our Future- the Guy and Miriam Ullens Foundation Collection. The show features no less than 97 works by more than 60 Chinese artists.

With attendees well over the allowed gathering size of 40 people, a new rule for the Olympics period, the large crowds were privileged to get the first viewing of the 15 year collection of Guy and Miriam Ullens, an eclectic tour of recent contemporary Chinese art history. Included in the opening was a live performance by He Yunchang, especially commissioned by the Ullens.

For the performance He (pronounced 'her') was suspended upside down above the gallery floor held by mysterious tubes attached to a large alien like object. Encased in rubber claw feet and hands he was then spray painted by his assistants and left to hang unmoving for an interminable time while stressed UCCA personnel attempted to prevent the large crowd of journalists and onlookers from taking photos. Several turtles attached to the artist's hands attempted to escape but were prevented from doing so. Other staff were steering the audience away from unhung work.


Liu Wei's comment on intellectual property rights, courtesy UCCA

As with many major Chinese shows there was an edge of danger, anarchy and spirit of misadventure. A fight broke out between two women and staff had to mop up blood from the gallery floor.

Two seemingly derivative large pieces dominate the show- Yin Xiuzhen's Introspective Cavity, a huge tent like structure created out of old clothes, and Wang Du's Space-time Tunnel. The tunnel, which takes visitors into the main hall, incorporates a rickety metal staircase and slide, which delivers visitors breathless and on their arses into the heart of show.

The main hall hosts a widely diverse collection of pieces, from Chen Yi Fei's signature painting Reflecting on History From My Space to the latest fashionable work by Cao Fei, the interactive virtual RMBcity built in halflife. The Ullens are as diverse in their tastes as they are avaricious. Unfortunately, as with many new media artists, technical problems arose and Cao Fei's installation was not working at the time of the viewing.


Installation view, Yin Xiuzhen, Introspective Cavity, courtesy UCCA

As the entire art center, as well as the current show, are a showcase for the patronage of the collectors, it seems an allowable indulgence that two paintings of the Ullens couple appear in the show—one at the entrance and another in the main hall, illustrating their unique stamp on Chinese contemporary art.

There are though still unanswered questions about the future of the center—following the departure of several high ranking staff and a new undisclosed direction to create 5 million Euro a year to support the institution. This new commercial aspect to the center has yet tomaterialize apart from a small shop and proposed restaurant. "We are not an embassy, we want to be a village," said director Jerome Sans.

The Our Future show, being a selection of the best work in the Ullens collection, has many highlights, but occasionally we get to be affronted by the genius that is Zhou Tiehai. Several of his works feature prominently in the show, including a large work on paper, The Avant Guarde is Not Afraid of a Long March, which he was surprised to see the Ullens had mounted onto canvas. A rare gem is his 9 minute video from 1997 which is a tongue in cheek look at modern Chinese art movements. In a hilarious moment his protagonists, dressed in Qing dynasty outfits are harangued over dinner by a foreign art critic for being too traditional as they look on sheepishly. Other memorable works are Yan Xue Zhen's portable cities, Chun Yun's Who Has Stolen Our Bodies created out of soap bars, and Huang Yongping's Bhudda's Hands. The Ullens expressed the hope that the show will be a new beginning for them and bring about a new understanding of Chinese art.


Performance view, He Yunchang, courtesy UCCA

The energetic show wound down with the flown in dignitaries and press being whisked away in a fleet of black people carriers, the air conditioning was turned off and the last remaining hangers on drifted out into the humid night. As the Olympics approach this may have been a rare moment of chaos within the strict management and control of events by the authorities, but with the upcoming opening of Pace Beijing on August 2, and the Other Shore Gallery on August 3, there may be more excitement yet.

Chris Gill


Chris Gill has been living in China since 1992,  where he works as a studio artist and writer. 
liyunfei@gmail.com, homepage: www.shanghaieye.net

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