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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Urban China

The New Museum exhibition Urban China: Informal Cities is "a physical manifestation of the magazine Urban China which will explore notions of the informal (or vernacular) as they apply to the current urban situation in China and the United States." Located in the "fishtank" gallery at the rear of the museum's ground floor, the show is visible from the street, a reaching that is reinforced by the words that are duplicated on the glass in gray from the yellow words on the back wall.

The show is in effect a layering of two-dimensional content, from the words and images on the back walls to the words on the glass; in between are issues of Urban China and PCs with a wealth of images from the magazines. Even the three-dimensional objects that sit in the gallery spaces, such as a water bucket made from a basketball, are displayed in silhouette on the wall, as if the content of the object is flattened to the display of information in one less dimension.

Urban China

The exhibit, by Jiang Jun with curator Benjamin Godsill, could best be described as cursory, as it tries to distill the roughly 30 issues of the Chinese magazine into a relatively small space. The layering of information is necessary, in this regards, so then the exhibit becomes the space and its virtual extension, including a bootlegged issue of Volume (review forthcoming).

Unfortunately the issues of Urban China are not bilingual, so one is reliant upon the decisions made by the artist and curator as to the appropriateness of the expression. I'm not sure if the mapping of towns named after the goods they create is the best use of wall space, but that gleaning that bit of information does help me understand on aspect of the urban condition in China a little better. Instead of yearning for more content in the exhibition, I yearn for more time, to pore over the imagery of the issues and the virtual database at the New Museum.

The exhibition is on display at the New Museum at 235 Bowery until March 29, after which it heads to the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles (April 26-July 19) and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago (September 12-December 6).

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