Art Exhibition Celebrating “Shanghai” Hits San Francisco Ahead Of World Expo

Major Exhibit Of Paintings, Furniture, Rugs, Revolutionary Posters, Fashion And Film Opens At Asian Art Museum Tomorrow

Moonlight over Huangpu River, 1930s. By Yuan Xiutang (dates unknown). (Courtesy Asian Art Museum)

Moonlight over Huangpu River, 1930s. By Yuan Xiutang (dates unknown). (Courtesy Asian Art Museum)

Last month, we caught a story about plans by the China National Tourism Administration to promote the upcoming Shanghai World Expo in 200 cities worldwide. Perhaps as part of this massive promotion — or at least part of the “Shanghai Celebration” year in San Francisco — the Asian Art Museum will open a wide-ranging exhibition of oil paintings, furniture, fashion and film celebrating Shanghai. Coinciding with the beginning of Chinese New Year festivities, this exhibit includes works by many Shanghai artists and designers from yesterday and today.

From the San Francisco Examiner:

History, diversity, landmarks and tourist destinations — the Bund, the City of God Temple and more — are represented in the exhibit, co-organized by the Shanghai Museum and the Asian Art Museum. Michael Knight is the lead curator.

The poster “Nanjing Road” is a fascinating visual representation of Shanghai as a hub of commercial power in the early 1900s.

It shows busy traffic — luxury cars, double-deck buses, not a rickshaw in sight — in a canyon of high-rise buildings, including some of the city’s major department stores. For good measure, the artist added two planes in the air, dangerously close to each other, but clearly serving only as added decoration in this picture of modernity.

Another cityscape, “Shadow in the Water,” is more abstract, but the installation of porcelain and light speaks of the same gleaming metropolis, which must have been fantastically incongruous in the middle of rural, impoverished, traditional China a century ago.

In addition to photographs of the city’s diverse population back then — including a group of Jewish refugees as World War II approached — paintings, calligraphy and other works chronicle the history and nature of Shanghai.

The show’s abstract art even deals with the reality of the city. “Shanghai Garden,” for example — an installation of silicone rubber rocks — is meaningful due to the material’s source. The piece was manufactured from molds of real rocks used in traditional gardens arrayed on top of bricks salvaged from the demolition of Shanghai houses in the 1920s.

“Shanghai” will run at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco until September 5, 2010.

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