Shanghai lends itself to superlatives and stereotypes - iconic, dynamic, thrilling - but a new exhibition by nine artists peels back the World Expo 2010 hype and labels to reveal other intriguing aspects.
"By Day, By Night" at the Rockbund Art Museum on northern Bund features eight site-specific art pieces, including installations, by Chinese and foreign artists invited to spend two to three weeks in the city and express it in art.
It runs through January 3. Through December 26, it features activities in which visitors interact with the art. It also offers films, concerts, lectures and dialogues.
The exhibition is curated by Hou Hanru, the Chinese curator best known to the West; he is based in San Francisco and Paris.
The artworks go beyond the Expo fever about glamorous Shanghai and reveal layers of a more complicated and sometimes mysterious city.
"Its complex and often perplexing history has made Shanghai a world legend, and one of the most thrilling, dynamic and promising global cities," Hou says. "Whether from its colonial past or the current process of modernization, Shanghai generates so many fantasies and dreams."
Hou has curated numerous exhibitions worldwide and advised major art institutions and collectors, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Deutsche Bank Collection.
In Hou's eyes, Shanghai is a city where life never stops during the day, filled with uproarious noise of traffic, machines and commerce; at night it's a place for leisure, culture and pleasure, one of seduction, dreams and fleur-du-mal adventure.
"The exhibition creates an intimate and effective relationship among the artists, the works, the events, the institution, the participants and the realities of Shanghai's city life," Hou says.
The artists include Choi Jeong-Hwa (South Korea), Sam Samore (US), Shahzia Sikander (Pakistan), Zhou Tiehai (China) and Nedko Solakov (Bulgaria).
South Korean artist and designer Choi has transformed two spaces in the museum. In the second-floor screening room he covers all the white walls with cheap vintage-patterned wallpaper and wraps the chairs in fake Louis Vuitton leather.
In the atrium on the sixth floor, Choi installs his work, "Lie of Life," composed of seemingly endless red, silver and transparent acrylic beads that pour down from the glass ceiling. Here too cheap mirror-like wallpaper reflects the brilliant and tacky sparkles of the beaded chains. He uses mundane objects to create a glamorous, dreamy and yet shabby world.
Choi also selects a big residential community along Huqiu Road, where the museum is located, for his installation of three fake crystal chandeliers. It is installed along the only street leading into and out of the community. He says it's his way of interacting with the community and creating a kind of total environment, something that mingles architecture, furniture and art.
"I believe public art should bring happiness to people, even when they are not physically in an art museum," Choi says.
Another highlight in the exhibition is the film "Hallucinations/Paradise" by US artist Samore. It depicts half-imagined, half-true stories of three couples who move from other cities to Shanghai, the new center of the world. He describes his work as "a fable about everyday life, madness, love and Shanghai."
The exhibition goes beyond formal exhibition spaces and extends to virtually every corner of the museum. The cafe on the sixth floor is the site of the installation "Desserts" by Shanghai artist Zhou Tiehai. The work was inspired by the "delirious" writings in French about gastronomy by a French friend.
The long, convoluted and virtually unintelligible story - in gold letters - is glued onto the glass walls of the cafe and accompanied by many tiny paintings based on Internet images. The impression is one of great intricacy. Sound tracks recording the spoken text are played over speakers in the cafe and in the elevator.
"The work is a playful and mocking demonstration of the notorious cliche of French 'good taste,' which is so pursued by the nouveau riches across the world today." Zhou says.
Date: through January 3 (closed Mondays), 10am-6pm
Address: 20 Huqiu Rd
Admission: 15 yuan