Christian Dior & Chinese Artists
Source:ArtReview Author:Maya Kóvskaya Date: 2009-01-15 Size:
TPendulous pearls slide past your fingers, cool and shimmering as you part the strands of beaded curtain. Passing through China avant-garde pioneer Huang Rui's sumptuous installation Timeless White Cloud (all works 2008) is a sensuous experience. Interspersed among the opalescent whites are onyx bea

Pendulous pearls slide past your fingers, cool and shimmering as you part the strands of beaded curtain. Passing through China avant-garde pioneer Huang Rui's sumptuous installation Timeless White Cloud (all works 2008) is a sensuous experience. Interspersed among the opalescent whites are onyx beads that form the Chinese characters for the Tang dynasty poem that gives the piece its name. Next, in a chamber of black glass, a gigantic mirror reflects a mannequin in a frothy vintage Dior bridal gown hovering amidst a spray of fibre-optic lights. It's enough to make a romantic swoon – as is the delightful, innovative couture from the house of Dior that plays muse to 22 of China's contemporary-art glitterati, under the curatorial direction of Jérôme Sans at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) – the largest foreign-funded art foundation in China.

While art people often cringe at joint 'art and fashion' shows, the Christian Dior & Chinese Artists show is not a typical corporate-sponsored exhibition, but rather a creative engagement with Dior's aesthetic legacy by Chinese contemporary artists.

Alongside pandering commissions – Liu Jianhua's white ceramic Dior shoes and handbags; Zheng Guogu's copper Dior perfume bottle replicas; a tired Pop image of Marilyn Monroe by Yan Lei – other, more powerful works redeemed the show: Huang Rui's poetic pearlspliced corridor; Shi Jinsong's spiked metal chair with a knifeblade seat fit for the Marquis de Sade; Zhang Huan's disturbing Giant No. 3 – a behemoth pregnant vagrant woman made of stapled cowhides (hooves, tails and all), slumped on the ground, her feral child slung over her shoulder. Imperfect Asian women in Dior knockoffs imitate the catwalk strut of anorexic models on opposite screens in Wang Gongxin's video installation questioning the 'value' of ordinary people in a society obsessed with wealth. Zhang Dali's portrait of Galliano in AK47 logos hints at the invisible violence of capitalist hegemony. Wen Fang's walls of white brick historicise fashion with lacquered images from generations of Western clothing designers on one side and icons from China's Cultural Revolution and beyond on the other. A holed wall of suspended flying bricks represents the power of East–West engagement to explode cultural barriers. Sino-Japanese team Rong Rong & Inri's handpainted black-and-white photographs seamlessly integrate the couture and cross-cultural pretence of the show. Posed before their home in Dior's Asian-stylised creations, they have created a commission which parallels the ongoing series shot in their doorway, works instantiating the quotidian poignancy of their lives together during Inri's pregnancy with their infant son and visually capturing through the hybridised fusions of Dior's designs and the artists' own cross-cultural union the mimetic symbiosis of continuity and change.

The fashion powerhouse wins here by appropriating art, linking the house of Dior brand to the (false but potent) notion that art is above commodification. The uncritical revelry of some artists in their own newly minted celebrity mirrors the embrace of art as fetish commodity and store-bought cultural capital for the nouveau riche, and echoes the dream of material accumulation, while eliding grotesque social inequality in a country where one superrich individual is worth more money than Gansu province, population twenty-six million. When art becomes parasitical on fashion and cedes its capacity to offer critical optics for viewing the human condition, we can legitimately moan about co-optation; and when artists appropriate capital to realise works that extend their explorations and serve their aesthetic visions, we can celebrate. Christian Dior & Chinese Artists gives us cause for a bit of both. (Thanks to ArtReview)

[Editor] Zhang Shuo

    Artintern