Shaoxing Lu’s OV Gallery became the first art space to be completely shut down by the Culture Bureau since 2000 on Friday, thanks to an apparently controversial exhibition about “re-visioning history. Says That’s Shanghai:
One of the reasons given by the Culture Bureau for the closure is that the gallery did not have a license to exhibit these foreign artists. But, of course, this happens in every gallery without any detrimental effect when there is an innocuous show going on. A further reason given by the bureau is that the gallery was selling catalogs without a license. But, again, this seems like small beer. So what was it about this exhibition that the authorities found so offensive? In a word: History.
This exhibition challenged the official CCP view of history. As the exhibition’s promotional material states: “‘Re-visioning History’ seeks… to look at how history is written, taught and consumed.” I suppose it did not help to have the word ‘history’ in the exhibition title; a literal red rag to a very bullish Culture Bureau which is particularly sensitive during Expo time when Shanghai is on show to the world. Ren Hong – who for me was the showpiece of the exhibition – has taken Cultural Revolution images and overlaid them with intricate patterns (see above pic). The other headline artist, Zhang Dali, in a project entitled ‘Second History,’ has taken versions of photographs which were published in various print media throughout Chinese history, including the Cultural Revolution, and placed them alongside versions of the same photographs, which have been altered for propaganda purposes. Cult Rev art is nothing new. In fact, it’s rather old hat. The Chinese are especially bored by it, even if we Westerners are not. But that did not stop the Culture Bureau seizing Zhang’s catalogs from OV. They also confiscated a print of one of the foreign artists, Shanghai-based Ben Houge, who uses video to capture the layering, erasing and re-construction of history.
While the Culture Bureau has apparently removed art from shows in Shanghai before (most recently, ShangART was told to take down works from their ‘Made in the Middle East’ show), the last full gallery closure was Aiweiwei’s infamous ‘Fuck Off’ exhibition at Eastlink Gallery back at the turn of the century.