In this exhibition, the question ASIA: THE PLACE TO BE? is brought up 13 times. Nine artists are from China, three from South Korea, and with Gerhard Richter´s Mao, dating from 1968, there is also a representative of the ´Western look´ towards the East. Never before and in none of this galleries had Alexander Ochs shown a portrait of Mao. Now, in the first exhibition at the new space, the vague face of the ´big chairman´, shining in the dark, can already be seen from the entrance hall. The conflict between today´s China and the founder of the people´s republic is reflected in the 70/30 formula which is proclaimed by the official historiography ˆ i.e. 70% of his deeds are today considered to be correct, 30% as wrong.
From the Westen point of view, this historical pragmatism seems to be extremely strange. Though artists who partly lived the terror of the cultural revolution found another way to express the progressive distancing look back. Under the ´Mao-Pop´ label, with their screaming colours and sometimes the esthetics of propaganda posters, those works express their ironic though broken relationship with the recent history of China. Especially this type of works were very popular on the Western art market of the 90´ies which also resulted in a wave of more or less commissioned works. Exactly this period of the Mao-cult coincided with the opening of Alexander Ochs´ first gallery and with it the decision to refuse to go along with the tendency of the art market.
The dilemma of the Western reception of Asia
The exhibition ASIA: THE PLACE TO BE? focuses on the dilemma of Western reception and the henceforward booming art tourism in the Far East. Have we lately been speaking of a flourishing market for (not only) contemporary works by East Asian artists, any creating of contexts are missed out and the problems of blatant lacks are only rarely expounded.
ASIA: THE PLACE TO BE? is opening with the yet cited Mao-portrait by the German painter Gerhard Richter. The painting is dating from 1968 and was created in reaction to Warhol´s large-sized, heroic Mao. By implying minimal color contrasts on a scale of shades of grey, Richter is disolving the protagonist´s face and is thus reflecting a scene of instability. Given this fact, the work is forming a relevant ´intro´ for the Asian artists´ works. And still: there is the question of the ´specific Western view´.
ASIA: THE PLACE TO BE?
The exhibition is raising this question especially under two points of view. On the one hand, it´s alluding to the over and over repeated topos of the Western media, saying that the future of the West lies in China. On the other hand, each work grants insights into the Chinese internal perspective. Here, the scope of works is ranging from flashbacks into the dark chapters of Chinese history like the Japanese-Chinese war in the 30´ies and 40´ies, the bright and dark sides of the industrialization and the devastating consequences of the cultural revolution. At the same time, the energetic atmosphere of the art scene becomes visible, taking a multi-media stand on ´the here and now´ in China and Korea.
What´s presented in the exhibition ´Mahjong. Chinese contemporary art of the Sigg Collection´ (currently at the Bern Kunstmuseum and as of autumn 2006 at the Hamburger Kunsthalle) as a documentary scope, ASIA: THE PLACE TO BE? is giving precise examples through chosen artist positions: there is no such thing as the characteristical Chinese or Korean in the art from China or Korea.
By saying goodbye to this cliché, the gallery visitor has at least two options: first, the displayed work can be seen and compared to other International artists and/or the displayed will be taken as an invitation to take a look behind the scenes. The second way leads to the realistic past or presence of Eastern Asia. With the example of expressive brush strokes, depicting industrial scenarios by Cui Guotai (born in 1964), the exhibition even offers this background, and also with the Wang Bin´s documentary film ´Tiexi District´ which drew a lot of attention during the Biennale in 2002. For several hours, the film is showing the tristesse of the meanwhile completely run-down, formerly favorite industrial plant Tiexi in the Chinese town of Shenyang. Asia: The place to be?
In his work Vibrations I (oil on canvas, 2005), Yang Shaobin (born in 1963) picks up another painful chapter of Chinese history: the Japanese-Chinese war of the 30´ies respectively the 40´ies. In a frosted blue, the Japanese bombers tremble over the sky of China. With Gerhard Richter´s Mustang-Staffel (1964) at the back of our minds, which brings up images of the destructive low-flying plane attack over Dresden during World War II, Yang´s painting is clearly communing. Typically enough, the air planes on both paintings are flying towards opposite directions.