ShanghART Supermarket

By Abel S.

ShanghART Supermarket. Art in Miami

Xu Zhen’s ShanghART Supermarket. Art Basel Miami Beach 2007. Xu Zhen’s project for Art Basel Miami Beach 2007 was a full-scale replica of what is alleged to be a proto-typical Chinese convenience store. Yes, one of those 24h little stores that are populated by an eclectic mix of well-known international goods – such as soft drinks, cigarettes and dairy – inter-mingling with Chinese pickles, dried fruits, toiletry, newspapers, and rice-wine. While this type of store rapidly became an unmistakable icon of the Chinese urban landscape, its replica – now miles away – appeared as an unmistakable artwork among the top 200 art galleries in the world during the last edition of Art Basel Miami Beach.

Inconspicuous neon signs, written in both English and Chinese, singled out the N14 booth from the rest of the “art stores”. It was not just the exotic what draw our attention, but the odds of its new context: A Chinese Supermarket within a Global Art Supermarket. The store remained open during fair hours, selling a myriad of typical Chinese consumer products to visitors that, differently from their originals, were empty, nothing inside, nada… At first, that “emptiness” proposes an obvious critique to the global exchange of values in which China has played a major role for the last decade, but not quite only that…

Like the Asian nation in the global economy, ShanghArt Supermarket also succeeded in contaminating the “art world” with “low grade” Chinese productions. It’s a sign of the times more than a critique. Art fairs have become the preferred venues for promoting contemporary art and artists, and have visibly driven the attention away from their old, non-for-profit sisters: the biennials. At the end of the day, Xu Zhen’s piece reminds us that in today’s art world, artistic value may be defined with words but it’s actually measured in millions of dollars. So why not then owning a Chinese convenience store, better than a painting? …just a thought.


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