Power Station of Art presents “Hon: Niki de Saint Phalle & Shen Yuan” from August 18th to October 14th, 2018. Looking back on representative works from across the careers of Niki de Saint Phalle and Shen Yuan, this exhibition strives to establish a dialogue that crosses time, space, and even medium; highlighting the connections and inner resonance of their creations. At the current time, while gender issues are once again rising to the fore; their works infuse the “Power Station,” a symbol of patriarchy, with an energy that goes beyond gender. Their experiences will inspire us to ponder the various debates revolving around femininity, along with unfolding the complexity of language, identity and immigration.
The exhibition title, “HON” (pronoun of “she” in Swedish language), is a tribute to Niki de Saint Phalle’s 1966 work of the same name. This massive spatial installation of a reclining female form contained facilities of an automatic vending machine, movie theater, gallery, and bar. It also combined the different functions of production, entertainment, education and social interaction. It was open, self-sufficient, all encompassing, and indicative of the enormous potential of women being hidden within the “subordinated sex”. Hon was dismantled immediately, after three months on display. Even though it was never to be seen again, it remains remarkable in history. Niki de Saint Phalle was always renowned for her wide range of innovative forms and brilliant sense of handling large-scale sculptures and installations. In the vibrant 1960s, she smashed the shackles of tradition with works of gigantic scale and style that appeared to break away from the feminine, opening a new path for gender liberation. Shen Yuan, a pioneer in the Chinese avant-garde art movement of the 1980s, also began her artistic career amidst dramatic social change. Her works responded to issues of cultural interaction and conflict, and the balance of urbanization. It is not only rooted in her intimate perceptions of China's local predicament and experience of artists living overseas since the 1980s; but also served as an extension of the path of contemporary art, joined by Saint Phalle in a contextualized cross-cultural exploration. This “dialogue” can be made possible, precisely at this specific point.
The two artists’ “dialogue” begins at this very moment in the “garden” on the museum’s second floor platform. It reflects Saint Phalle’s “Tarot Garden,” that she spent almost twenty years creating, while also hosting the towering “La Jardin”, a huge new installation Shen Yuan dedicated to this exhibition. This work, which takes its shape from the corset, a garment used to constrain the female body, stands 5.5 meters tall. Visitors can enter its two components to experience an entire different social scene. Several equally large and enticing manifesto sculptures from Saint Phalle also beckon visitors to wander and ponder. This garden has no shortage of clever elements such as: “braided hair,” a “homme chair,” an “obelisk,” and a “comb,” bringing the viewer into constant encounters with gender humor. In discussing the inspiration for her new works, Shen Yuan says, “The relationship between the body and social space is our shared interest and common ground.” This perfectly describes the foundation for the dialogue between these two artists, the quest for a channel between the perceptual system of the body, and the discursive structures of society. If Niki de Saint Phalle’s bold, voluptuous “Nana” sculptures, and the shocking magnifying glass Shen Yuan places on everyday objects reflect inwards and represent women redefining their own bodies; then Saint Phalle's resounding “shooting” paintings and Shen’s incisive probing of reality break outwards, and represent women’s resistance against the existing social frame.
This exhibition marks Niki de Saint Phalle's most comprehensive retrospective in Asia. It is also the premiere retrospective of Shen Yuan in Shanghai, thematically introducing her artistic pursuits that span more than three decades. A catalogue for this exhibition will be launched at the opening day, compiling the selected artworks from both artists, as well as more than 100 pieces of rare historic photos and drawings. The excellent essays by Hou Hanru, Camille Morineau, Wang Minan and Zhang Nian will also be presented in the catalogue, attempting to extend thoughts through various perspectives. During the exhibition, a series of lectures and workshops will be conducted in cahoots with the exhibition to further explore the unique artistic merits of these two artists.
HON: Niki de Saint Phalle & Shen Yuan
18th August 2018— 14th October 2018
Location：2 floor, PSA
Organizer：Power Station of Art
Co-organizer: Activation Liquid
Acknowledgements: Shanghai International Culture Association, Niki Charitable Art Foundation, Galerie Mitterrand, TUP Culture Alliance Co., Ltd.
Niki de Saint Phalle (b. 1930, Neuilly-sur-Seine, France - passed away 2002, La Jolla, California)
Niki de Saint Phalle is a Franco-Amercian artist widely known for her colorful sculptures, performance art, films and monumental work projects. Saint Phalle draws inspirations for art from personal life experiences, mythologies and social issues. In the early 1960s, Saint Phalle emerged as an outsider in the art field at a time when abstract art was still prevailing in the West, given that she had not received any formal education in art. Then, she creates “shooting paintings”or tirs - assemblages of found objects covered with plaster that conceals containers of paint. They produce spontaneous effects by dispersing colors when hit by a bullet. Her “shooting paintings” make her famous and a key figure of the Nouveau Réalisme movement, which marks a conceptual turning point in painting and sculpture in art history. During the mid 1960s, Niki de Saint Phalle begins to create her most iconic Nanas, plump and free women figures. She goes on to produce a number of large-scale installations and sculptures with a team of artisans. Her life’s work would be the Tarot Garden in Tuscany, Italy. In the early 1990s, Saint Phalle moves back to the United States due to health issues. From cultural impressions and encounters, she develops her serigraph series Californian Diary there.
Shen Yuan (b.1959, Fujian)
Shen Yuan, born in Xianyou, Fujian Province in 1959, is one of China’s first female artists to gain international recognition. In the early 1980s, she studied in the Faculty of Chinese painting at Zhejiang Academy of Fine Art (now China Academy of Art), and expanded on experimental arts as led by the trend at the time. She experienced changes of living environment and a discontinuity of cultures as she moved to France in the 1990s, which provoked her reflection on language and identity issues. Shen is skilled at using daily objects to perform artistic creation and has a preference for those that dissolve shortly and are difficult to use. She contends that “it is the responsibility of an artist to endow new value upon things.” Materials like knitting, embroidery, hair and shoes emerge constantly in her artworks, reflecting the simple scenes of women’s everyday life as well as the complex feminist discourse. Her recent artworks demonstrate a closer association with her peripatetic experience travelling around the world, which exhibits her acute perception towards the dramatic changes that are taking place around us.
Established on Oct. 1st, 2012, the Power Station of Art (PSA) is the first state-run museum dedicated to contemporary art in mainland China. It is also home to the Shanghai Biennale. Renovated from the former Nanshi Power Plant, PSA was once the Pavilion of Future during the 2010 Shanghai World Expo. The museum has not only witnessed the city’s vast changes from the industry age to the IT era, but also provided a rich source of inspirations for artists with its simple yet straightforward architectural styles.
And as Shanghai’s generator for its new urban culture, PSA regards non-stopping innovation and progress as the key to its long-term vitality. The museum has been striving to provide an open platform for the public to learn and appreciate contemporary art, break the barrier between life and art, and promote cooperation and knowledge generation between different schools of art and culture.