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4 Key Takeaways from Gallery Weekend Beijing 2021

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Gallery Weekend Beijing returned for its 5th edition from April 22 until May 2, with 37 participating galleries, non-profit art organizations and independent institutions.

Like so much that is happening in China’s cultural sphere at the moment, Gallery Weekend Beijing is an outlier on the global stage, joining the likes of West Bund Art & Design in Shanghai, as events that are almost unimaginable in other countries struggling with the fallout of Covid-19.

Originally set for March earlier this year, the event was pushed back to the end of April and made some key changes to the programming that we saw in 2020’s scaled-back version, while putting together a stellar slate of shows.

Here are some of our favorite stories from this year’s Gallery Weekend Beijing.

Ye Funa and Luo Fuxing Steal the Show

One of the hits of Gallery Weekend Beijing was a pop-up based around the shamate subculture called The Smart Gallery, by artist Ye Funa and “father” of shamate, Luo Fuxing.

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The Smart Gallery takes the form of a beauty parlor, seemingly at odds with the other shows at Gallery Weekend Beijing. Media swarmed the interactive pop-up, while fans of the subculture could swing by to have their hair styled in the idiosyncratic colored and spiky fashion of Shamate OGs.

Speaking about how the pop-up came together, Ye Funa told us, “I had been talking to Luo Fuxing about this. I wanted to be a shamate when I was little, or, to put it more precisely, I was scared of shamate because I thought they were so cool and tough. I never thought about being part of them, but last year coincidentally I went to Shipai Village in Dongguan [in Guangdong province], where I blended into the community smoothly. I hung out with them together, it was an unforgettable experience that made me very happy. I got to know Luo Fuxing at that time, and I thought he was very interesting and complex with so many different sides, so I thought it was appropriate to do a project like this (with him).”

The subculture has received a resurgence in interest since the release of the poignant documentary We Were Smart by director Li Yifan.

Check back in with RADII later this week for our interview with Ye Funa about shamate and her career to date.

Cao Fei’s Huge Retrospective Stuns Fans

UCCA’s mid-career retrospective of integral multimedia artist Cao Fei’s work spans decades and mediums like film, video, virtual reality, and installation to give visitors an immersive experience that allows them to engage with her art.

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The show runs until June 6, and also coincides with the publication of a catalogue called HX (2021), which documents the artist’s intensive research processes.

It’s a fun and frivolous journey, that is on the one hand a deepdive into the artist’s career, as well as the cultural and social shifts that China has gone through in the past 20 years.

Ryuichi Sakomoto’s First Institutional Appearance in China Tainted by Tragic Death

One of the standout shows during Gallery Weekend Beijing was Japanese musician and producer Ryuichi Sakomoto’s exhibition Seeing Sound, Hearing Time, which includes eight large-scale works and sound installations that redefine how to experience music and art.

Sakomoto’s fanbase in China is large and passionate. The musician is best-known as a member of electronic music innovators, Yellow Magic Orchestra, and a composer on films like The Last Emperor, Little Buddha and The Revenant.

The opening of the exhibition was shrouded in tragedy however, as a construction worker accidentally fell from the roof of M WOODS on March 9 and later died, after which the art institution issued a statement, saying that the opening of the exhibition would be postponed to mourn the worker’s death.

Related:

Basil Pao’s Stunning Photos Show Life on Set of “The Last Emperor”

The show is supplemented by photographs that document the making of The Last Emperor, shot by Basil Pao. It will run until August 8.

Visiting Galleries and Art On Its Own Terms

Gallery Weekend Beijing opened up its Visiting Sector in 2021, allowing attendees to view art works from Chinese galleries like Canton Gallery from Guangzhou and BANK/MABSOCIETY from Shanghai.

Similarly, international institutions, such as New York City/Brussels-based Gladstone Gallery, and London’s Pilar Corrias Gallery were also in attendance. Those exhibitions put on by visiting galleries will run until May 20.

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Lessons From China’s First Physical Art Fair Since Covid-19: The Awkwardness of Taking Art Online

And finally, one of the things that we enjoyed most about the exhibitions that we visited while in Beijing was that the art was shown on its own terms. National identifiers were at a minimum, and in particular, there was no overuse of identifiers like “Chinese.” As a result, we were able to let each artist’s trajectory unfold in front of our eyes instead of focusing on identifying cultural elements in each work of art.

Cover image: Cao Fei, “La Town” (Still), 2014, Video, 42’13”. Courtesy the artist, Vitamin Creative Space, and Sprüth Magers.

RADII Staff
RADII (rā'dē-ī') is an independent platform of artists, writers and creators dedicated to sharing vibrant stories from the rarely explored sides of new China.