TAASA Review Issues

September 2007

Vol: 16 Issue: 3
Shanghai
Guest Editor: Sabrina Snow

Cover Image
Light and Easy (detail) by Yang Zhenzhong, China, 2002. For complete image and acknowledgements, see Thomas Berghuis’ article on Shanghai’s contemporary art scene page 4 this issue.

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Editorial

Perhaps no other city in the world today represents such a meeting of extremes as Shanghai. With its rich history drawn from its wealthy trade past, its varied architecture, its vibrant lifestyle and powerful artistic creativity, Shanghai’s explosive interactions between old and new, tradition and modernity, rich and poor, Communist sterility and individualistic creativity have always provided a rewarding focus for research in all fields of the arts. And so, for this issue of TAASA Review.

Shanghai was the city chosen by the foreign powers in the 18th century as their entry point to China, creating a chink in the stifling wall of Qing orthodoxy through which modernising trends – social, economic and artistic – crept in. In the 21st century, history is being repeated, as Shanghai again leads the way for China as its trade and economic powerhouse, producing ‘space age’ developments in architecture and challenging and innovative contemporary art.

Trade, and the buildings resulting from trade, shaped the character of the city from its earliest times. Contributor James Hayes creates a vivid picture of the early 19th century walled town, whose location on the fertile Yangzi plain and magnificent river access to central China gave it unprecedented potential to Western eyes. Jim Spigelman picks up the architectural theme in his exploration of the ‘compradoric style’ introduced by the early trading houses at the turn of the 19th century along the famous Shanghai ‘Bund’, taking us through the evolution of hong design, from simple elegance to extravagant neo-classical displays of the powers of Empire. Andrew Field’s interest is in the architecture and society of a later period – he brings alive another era for which Shanghai is famous – the ‘decadent’ 1930s and its art deco.

An overview of present-day Shanghai’s architectural form is provided by Ann Warr. With entertaining depictions of the characters who inhabited the city, she outlines the city’s current vibrant mix of (few) remaining early buildings, ‘colonial’ and art deco hotels, clubs and banks, through the Communist period to the 21st century city of high-rise epitomised by the Oriental Pearl Tower in Lujiazui on the ‘other’ side of the river Huangpu.

The Oriental Pearl Tower has become symbolic of Shanghai’s post-modern character and its inexorable drive to the future, so much part of that individualistic free-wheeling spirit that has characterised Shanghai since the earliest times. How appropriate, then, that Yang Zengzhong’s Light and Easy image of Shanghai balanced on a fingertip is the cover image. In our leading article, Thomas Berghuis takes the reader into the realm of the imagination and subconscious, as he Re-imagines the City through the lens of its theatricality, symbolised by the conflicts between the reality of the old city and the drama of the new: the interaction of events of the past, the present and the future in the artists’ minds, producing the notion of the Shanghai Surreal.

Artist Yang Zhenzhong identifies the art scene in Shanghai with ‘a culture of ease’ arising from popular experiences of a rising consumer culture and rapid urbanisation. In the 19th century, the very same characteristics produced the so-called ‘Shanghai School’ of painting, when artists broke away from tradition and experimented with popular subject matter and new techniques, catering to a new class of nouveaux riches patrons and compradors. This in turn gave rise to the movement to modernise Chinese art which swept into the 20th century: Claire Roberts touches on this in ‘Preserving the National Culture?’, when discussing how new nationalistic associations such as the Cathay Art Union performed an essential role in informing the public about art, and helping to record private collections for posterity.

Now, as always, the world remains fascinated with Shanghai, where international- standard arts events such as the Shanghai Arts Fair and the Shanghai Film Festival are taking off and the Shanghai Biennale (ref. TAASA Review 15/4, December 2006) is now a fixture in the international contemporary art calendar. Shanghai artists and exhibitions are attracting wide-ranging and enthusiastic reviews – for example, for the exhibition The Real Thing: Contemporary Art from China, at the Tate Liverpool March-June 2007. And the international market for Chinese contemporary art has exploded.

Shanghai always was, and continues to be, a stage where the drama of the human condition is played out in all its complexity – the stage for Thomas Berghuis’ Dream-Theatre.

This issue of TAASA Review had its genesis in the TAASA symposium Shanghai Old and New: City of Dreams, held at the Powerhouse Museum on 26 May 2007. Five of the articles included are abbreviated versions of addresses delivered there.

Table of contents

3 Editorial: Shanghai, city of dreams – Sabrina Snow

4 (Re-) Imagining the city – Shanghai dream-theatre and the new Shanghai surreal – Thomas J. Berghuis

8 Fertile and fortunate: Shanghai before the treaty port era – James Hayes

11 A desire to grow rich: the west comes to Shanghai – James Spigelman

14 Preserving the national culture? Huang Binhong and the Cathay Art Union – Claire Roberts

16 Nightlife and modernity in interwar Shanghai – Andrew Field

18 City of paradox: Shanghai stories – Anne Warr

21 Traveller’s choice: Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong. – Natalie Seiz

22 Popular beliefs, jade masterpieces. Translucent world: Chinese jades from the forbidden city. – Liu Yang

25 Reports: Recent TAASA activities.

24 Carpetbaggers in Istanbul – Susan Scollay

25 TAASA members’ diary

26 What’s on in Australia: September to November 2007. A selective roundup of exhibitions and events –Compiled by Tina Burge

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