Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Everyone likes shiny things

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago is always a pleasure to visit.  One of the most memorable exhibits up now is an installation by artist Zhan Wang.  Urban landscape 2003 is made of hundreds of stainless steel pots and pans.  The landscape is quite an optical illusion.  At first the shiny metal covered room seems to go on forever...then you look closer and think the room is tiny.  In the end you find the installation is somewhere in-between.  This exhibit is fun and frustrating at the same time! The only way I could tell where mirror began and metal stopped was by following the lighting track on the ceiling.  Wang creates many eye tricks by placing mirror images of objects to give suggestion of a mirror where no mirror actually is.  For example he would line up a silver spoon and place one behind it in its reflection.  This spoon would then by accompanied by other objects to further fool the eye.  The mountainous forms of lava-like silver broke up the small kitchen objects and created large shiny forms in the never ending landscape. This exhibit brought to mind contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama, who used hundreds of strings of light in a mirrored room.  The exhibit in the Whitney Biennial had the same effect of never ending space and was even pushed more by being locked in the dark room of lights for 30 seconds!

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Here are some statements about Zhan Wang's work by Wu Hong.

   Gradually the focus of his experiments shifted from the relationship between stainless-steel rocks and their models to the relationship between these stainless-steel rocks and their environment. From the beginning, his making of these rocks was connected with his critique of Beijing's urban planning and construction. Beginning in the eighties and especially during the nineties, the many high-rises built in Beijing have rapidly transformed the appearance of this ancient city. Mostly adapting Western modern or postmodern styles, these structures also have incorporated certain native elements to make themselves look Chinese. Such "incorporation," however, is often superficial and stereotypical; the two most frequently used formulas are topping a building with a Chinese tile roof or adding some traditional ornamental rocks in the yard. Zhan Wang disagrees with the opinion that Beijing should be kept in its old form, but he is also dissatisfied with the random and undigested borrowing of Western or traditional forms. He hopes to create art forms that can genuinely reflect changes in a traditional Chinese city- works for "today's fast-paced and competitive society," in which "insatiable lust for material wealth takes the place of the detached leisure and comforts favored by intellectuals who adhere to their traditional heritage."
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