One Step Forward: Two Steps Back

Bilijana Ciric’s curatorial triumph at Times Museum in Gwangzhou – I am pitching to review this exhibition. It was seminal, provocative and its poignant political activism set a tone of open critique of the institution at a global level.

We then travelled across the city to the Times Property Museum, a 100% privately funded major contemporary art space where curator, Bilijana Ciric was opening her major 30-artist exhibition, One Step Forward: Two Steps Back. This exhibition is a critique of the institution from the perspective of the artist and historically positioned over a 30 year period. I had met Bilijana in Toronto during the Toronto International Art Fair, and had attended her book launch on a similar theme. The work about Thai migrant workers berry picking in Sweden was especially poignant for me, as was the installation of Jean Hubert Martin’s Les Magiciens de la Terre (the seminal 1989 Paris World Fair that signaled to the world that Eurocentricism in contemporary art was no longer absolute).

Next to Times Museum is a small alternative artist education space founded by Xu Tan. We met some of his “disciples” and had a tour by one of the artists of his installation in the space.

Xu Tan introduced me to the whole community of regional curators and curators from Shanghai and Beijing – this was in important opening and officials, dignitaries from a number of consulates had flown in for the event. I ended up being invited to dine at the head table with the lead curator of the Times Museum, the curator and a number of international artists. I was also able to meet some of the Hong Kong contemporary art leaders at that same dinner – and having been to their galleries, and seen the recent exhibitions, was able to make meaningful connections.

On July 2 we spent the morning and early afternoon at a privately run Gwangzhou arts centre and video research library – we spent a couple of hours sharing our portfolios with the artists who work in the centre. I came away with a strong sense of the breadth and scope of what is happening on many levels in the non-commercial contemporary art scene in this vibrant city.