David Zwirner is pleased to present Brilliant City, a group exhibition organized by Leo Xu at the gallery’s Hong Kong location featuring work by Francis Alÿs, Chen Wei, Stan Douglas, Li Qing, Michael Lin, Gordon Matta-Clark, and Ming Wong. Drawing inspiration from Hong Kong, a vertical city characterized by its lofty high-rise buildings and an archetype of the dystopian metropolis, this exhibition explores how artists across generations and locations have engaged with urban space.
Image: Chen Wei, Iron Sheet, 2015 (detail)
In projects using a wide range of media, including documentary film, painting, photography, performance, and video, Francis Alÿs directs his distinctive sensibility toward anthropological and geopolitical concerns grounded in everyday life. "The Collector,” Cuauhtémoc Medina writes, “is rightly considered a turning point in . . . Alÿs's work. Its inspiration comes from . . . how, in the late middle Ages, the eviction of animals from inside city walls coincided with the birth of modernity. This prompted the emergence of a modern, restricted rationality . . . to project an 'ideal' model of city planning. Years later in Mexico City, Alÿs conceived The Collector as a means to hail street dogs and other wild urban fauna as heroes and metaphors of a widespread resistance to modernization.” Meanwhile, Zócalo, May 22, 1999, which records the movement of the sun and public life around a flag raised daily in Mexico City’s Plaza de la Constitución, exemplifies a key theme in Alÿs's work which he describes as: “When social encounters provoke sculptural situations.”
Chen Wei (b. 1980, China) is known for his meticulously composed photographs of handcrafted objects and scaled-down architectural models that blur the boundaries between reality and fiction, landscapes and dreamscapes. Influenced by cinematically staged photographs from the twentieth century, Chen’s body of work also includes references to painting and theater design. As Sam Gaskin writes in Ocula, “His Trouble series (2017) . . . is interested in forms from urban landscapes. These works use glitched-out LED signage encased in iron and steel as a kind of found photography.” But rather than his images having backstories, the artist explains, “I care more about the relationships between objects, their relationships with people, how they adapt to new environments and how they transmit information.” His recent solo shows were held at chi K11 Art Museum, Shanghai (2015); Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne (2017); and chi K11 Art Space, Guangzhou (2018), among others. Chen currently lives and works in Beijing.
Since the late 1980s, Stan Douglas has created films and photographs that investigate the parameters of their medium. His examination of technology’s role in image making, and how those mediations infiltrate and shape collective memory, has resulted in works that are at once specific in their historical and cultural references and broadly accessible. Part of the artist’s 2017 Blackout series, which imagines a present-day emergency scenario in New York City, Jewels and Expressway use the photographic medium as a tool for understanding the interpersonal dynamics that arise in such moments of societal fracture. Douglas’s earlier work Villa Geraldine / LG Service, Cerro (2004) is part of a body of photographs documenting post-revolutionary Havana, a place the artist describes as "full of evidence of an unfinished revolution."
Li Qing’s (b. 1981, China) paintings emerge out of a propaganda-heavy society where an image is filtered through myriad forms, including advertisements, mobile phones, and apps. Often using a binary format—presenting his paintings as diptychs, for example, or using the frame and glass panes of a window—Li's work has no single narrative, and complicates notions of reality and truth. As Li explains in a recent interview in TimeOut Hong Kong, “Window is about the relationship between the painting and the viewer’s perception. These paintings are almost like an illusion, presenting something that is artificial, something that’s not real behind window frames. But behind each window are views and architecture that can be found in real life. So there’s a layered relationship to it.” His work has been featured at institutions such as Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Fukuoka, Japan (2013); Long Museum, Shanghai (2013); Today Art Museum, Beijing (2016), among others. Li currently lives and works in Hangzhou and Shanghai, as well as teaching at the China Academy of Art, Hangzhou.
Michael Lin’s (b. 1964, Japan) monumental paintings and site-specific installations aim to reshape the viewer's perception of public spaces. Using patterns and designs appropriated from regional cultures, his work transforms the architecture it inhabits, and reflects present-day sociopolitical concerns. Lin’s works Forever Shanghai (2018), Huashan Road (2016), and Urumqi Road (2016) reference and reflect upon Forever (Yongjiu)—China’s oldest bicycle brand. The bicycles (which Lin reassembled himself) are both nostalgic objects and symbols of the country’s economic and cultural revival. As Aimee Lin notes in ArtReview, "For many people in [Shanghai], the Forever bike recalls the memory of the socialist and collective era of China back to decades ago when bikes were the dominant means of transportation and the country was called the kingdom of bicycles; for Lin, who uses a Forever bicycle as a means of transportation in his daily life, the bike is basic equipment and an artistic instrument that facilitates his continuous interest in urban mobility." His recent solo exhibitions were held at Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul (2010); Taipei Fine Arts Museum (2015); Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, Manila, Philippines (2016); and National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2017), among others. Lin currently lives and works in Taipei, Shanghai, and Brussels.
Gordon Matta-Clark’s practice introduced radical new modes of exploring and subverting urban architecture. Nearly all of the works he made are ephemeral, surviving only as films or photographics. Conical Intersect (1975) marked the first time Matta-Clark was able to join multiple structures with a single cut—“Periscopelike,” in the Solomon R. Guggenheim museum’s description, “the void offered passersby a view of the buildings’ internal skeletons.” The artist saw Office Baroque (1977) as an “enforced opportunity . . . to develop ideas about spatial rhythm and complexity that I might otherwise never have done . . . an almost musical score in which a fixed set of elements played their way up and down through the layers.” In Matta-Clark’s late work Circus (1978), exacted on a brownstone house in Chicago, art historian Thomas Crow noticed a return to the artist’s “favorite analogy between cutting buildings and slicing food."
Ming Wong’s (b. 1971, Singapore) videos and installations explore the intersections of language, identity, and performance. In his films, which are often reinterpretations of well-known movies, the artist casts himself as every character, playing male and female roles across a range of ages and backgrounds. Though untrained as an actor, Wong’s practice is deeply influenced by cinema, and centers around a dialogue between performativity, gender, and difference. Counting Metropolis (2001) and Ghost in the Shell (1995) among the references included featured his work in an interview with Art in America, Ming explains, “my influence is cinema, not art history.” Ming’s recent exhibitions were held at Ullens Center of Contemporary Art, Beijing (2015); Nassauischer Kunstverein Wiesbaden, Germany (2015); Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong (2016); and Passerelle Centre d’art contemporain, Brest, France (2016). Wong lives and works in Berlin and Singapore.