M+, the new museum of visual culture in Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District, unveiled Canton Express: Art of the Pearl River Delta (Canton Express), an exhibition dedicated to restaging one of the most historically and artistically important exhibitions of contemporary art from the Pearl River Delta region. Canton Express runs from 23 June to 10 September 2017.

Originally part of the historic exhibition Zone of Urgency curated by Hou Hanru in the Arsenale section of the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003, this exhibition is considered a major showcase of works by artists and cultural institutions active in the Pearl River Delta since the end of the 20th Century. Highlighting the impacts on the cultural landscape of the Pearl River Delta, this display emphasised the dynamic and unique conceptual contemporary art practices towards the everyday life from that that area, which were in stark contrast to previous interpretations of Chinese contemporary art that placed emphasis on realism, figurative styles and various political dimensions.

A collaborative project, the exhibition presented works from 14 artists and independent art spaces which presented their views via a wide range of media, from visual art and film to publication, with aims to weave a story surrounding the unprecedented process of urbanisation since the 1990s.

As the fourth exhibition to be held at the M+ Pavilion, a permanent space in the West Kowloon Cultural District that will host the museum’s exhibitions until the opening in late 2019, Canton Express demonstrates the extensive research, conservation efforts and the museum’s commitment to preserving contemporary artwork produced for a specific condition, unfolding the fascinating stories on communities and support behind the original exhibition. This exhibition also traces the rich cultural connections between the Pearl River Delta and Hong Kong, highlighting the chronology and presents to viewers the results from this research, complemented by exclusive insights into the back of house and conservation methods. This exhibition celebrates the donation of this collection to M+ by the influential Chinese collector Guan Yi in 2013, emphasising the unique role of collectors and the art community within the realisation of the original exhibition.

Featuring a wide range of works – including photography, sculpture, video, installation and archival materials, the restaging of this exhibition enhances the far-sighted experimentations on shaping a unique artistic language from this region. The 2017 presentation includes works by Chen Shaoxiong, Duan Jianyu, Feng Qianyu, Jiang Zhi, Jin Jiangbo, Liang Juhui, Libreria Borges Bookshop (Chen Tong and Lu Yi), Lin Yilin, Liu Heng, U-theque Organisation (Ou Ning and Cao Fei), Vitamin Creative Space, Xu Tan, Yang Yong, and Zheng Guogu.

The current Canton Express exhibition features contemporary reiterations of the original works presented in the historic exhibition Zone of Urgency in 2003 as well as the original pieces exhibited in Venice. Highlight artworks include Zheng Guogu’s 2017 reiteration of Sample Room (2003), using kitchenware produced by Yangjiang to reference the ways in which local manufacturers sold to overseas markets through the use of sample rooms and communication technology. While most components of the 2003 installation were lost after the exhibition, Sample Room was recreated based on photographic records and detailed email correspondence on the work. 

The installation Libreria Borges – World Bookstore: Unclear Past (2003/2017) by Chen Tong and Lu Yi uses two independent bookstores as a blueprint to create a mixed-use space similar to a library or a conference room in order to explore the role of contemporary bookshops in the context of contemporary art. Just like with Sample Room, here too most elements of the original installation were misplaced. For the current presentation, the chairs and tables were reproduced based on the photographic documentation, similar bookshelves were treated and cleaned, and the manuscripts and books were provided by Libreria Borges.  Hotbed (2003/2017) by Lin Yilin  is an installation showing video documentation of different historic performance pieces by the artist (including Safely Maneuvering across Lin He Road and 100 Pieces and 1000 Pieces amongst others), which addressed the issues of urbanisation throughout the 1990s. Since the artist did not attend the 2003 Venice Biennale and due to other limitations, the 2003 presentation varied from Lin’s original idea for Hotbed. For the current exhibition, the artist wished to present this work according to the original concept – this time six videos as opposed to five and grey bricks as opposed to red Venetian bricks were used. 

Xu Tan’s Biennale.dog (2003), which comments on the geographic and governmental limitations often experienced by Chinese artists, is yet another highlight piece in the current exhibition Canton Express. The piece, shown in the later touring exhibition of Canton Express, is a banner featuring an image of another artist Zheng Guogu and his brother carrying a dog that had the URL of a fake website www.biennale.com stamped on its body. Last but not least, Artistic Chickens (2003) by Duan Jianyu carry the multitude of meanings associated with the birds, such as the collision between the developing city and the countryside, for example. In the original installation, the artist presented 100 hand-painted fibreglass chicken sculptures spread around the exhibition space. Unfortunately due to financial and storage space constraints, only 40 sculptures returned and survived to this date. Following extensive discussions between the artist and M+ curators, it was decided that the current iteration should include only the original pieces to highlight the history of the artwork.

The Guan Yi donation to M+ consists of 37 works that comprises the entire exhibition of Canton Express, and spans 26 years (from 1979 to 2005). In addition to the Canton Express project, the donation also includes works by artists Chen Wenbo, Duan Jianyu, Gu Dexin, Huang Rui, Huang Yongping, the New Measurement Group, Shen Yuan, Wang Guangyi, Wang Luyan, Wang Yin, Wu Shanzhuan, Xu Zhen, Yan Lei, Zhang Peili and Zhou Tiehai.

“The Canton Express exhibition, which could not have been possible without the generous donation by Guan Yi, proves M+’s commitment to our individual donors and highlights the collectors’ role in the creation, preservation, and presentation of contemporary art,” said Ms Suhanya Raffel, Executive Director of M+. “The show also allows the local and regional audiences to experience a contemporary reiteration of the historically significant exhibition, which was originally presented only abroad.”

Canton Express highlights our museum’s crucial role in promoting local and regional art and presenting it within a wider, international context,” said Mr Doryun Chong, Deputy Director and Chief Curator of M+. “The exhibition also proves that pioneering research into contemporary art conservation processes is essential to ensure that historically significant works produced can be enjoyed for the years to come.”

“Visitors to Canton Express will get a broad perspective on contemporary art produced at the end of the 20th century within the Pearl River Delta, including Hong Kong,” said Dr Pi Li, Sigg Senior Curator, Visual Art of M+. “With this exhibition, we are proud to offer an unprecedented glimpse into the museum’s philosophy and on-going efforts on collection conservation. The exhibition also provides interesting insights into a time when the art community in the region worked together to realise a historical exhibition under very challenging circumstances.”

“I am delighted to see M+ restage the Canton Express exhibition from 2003 and make works from my former collection accessible to a wider audience. I hope that the works will help create a better understanding of the wide range of contemporary art produced in the Pearl River Delta region among local and international audiences who visit the M+,” said Guan Yi, collector.

The curatorial team consists of Dr Pi Li, Sigg Senior Curator, Visual Art, of M+, Visual Art with Isabella Tam and Ethan Cheng, Assistant Curators, Visual Art, M+.

The Guan Yi Donation, 2013

Launched in 2001, Guan Yi’s internationally acclaimed collection — the first of its kind in mainland China — ranges in dates from the late 1970s to the present and is especially noted for its emphasis on the work of the ’85 New Wave, conceptual art and large-scale installations. The collection includes works by members of the Stars Group, a critical player in the beginning of contemporary Chinese art, and is also particularly strong in Chinese conceptual art throughout its trajectory over the last 30 years. Spanning the years from 1979 to 2005, the donation includes works by Cao Fei, Chen Shaoxiong, Chen Wenbo, Duan Jianyu, Gu Dexin, Huang Rui, Huang Yongping, Liang Juhui, Lin Yilin, the New Measurement group, Shen Yuan, Wang Guangyi, Wang Luyan, Wang Yin, Wu Shanzhuan, Xu Zhen, Yan Lei, Zhang Peili, Zheng Guogu and Zhou Tiehai. The donation also includes the complete work list of Canton Express, a historic exhibition that was a part of the 2003 Venice Biennale and was the first major presentation of contemporary art from the Pearl River Delta region on the international stage.

General Information

Exhibition Period:
23 June – 10 September, 2017
11 am – 6 pm
Wednesday to Sunday and public holidays

Location:
M+ Pavilion, WKCD

For further information, visit the website http://www.westkowloon.hk/en/cantonexpress  

Programme

M+ Screenings:
M+ Screenings: City Limits is a weekend-long programme of film and video screenings. Using Canton Express exhibition as a springboard, City Limits considers the social, political, economic, and environmental effects of mass urban development, in China and beyond. The programme includes fictional films, artist videos, animations, experimental films and documentaries.

Date:
4 – 6 August 2017

Location:
Broadway Cinematheque, Yau Ma Tei

Remarks

M+
Hong Kong’s museum for visual culture – encompassing 20th and 21st century art, design, and architecture, and moving image from Hong Kong, China, Asia, and beyond – M+ will be one of the largest museums of modern and contemporary visual culture in the world. Located adjacent to the Art Park on the waterfront, the museum building, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, is scheduled to open in 2019.

About West Kowloon Cultural District
Located on Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour, the West Kowloon Cultural District is one of the largest cultural projects in the world. Its vision is to create a vibrant new cultural quarter for Hong Kong. With a complex of theatres, performance spaces, and M+, the West Kowloon Cultural District will produce and host world-class exhibitions, performances, and cultural events, as well as provide 23 hectares of public open space, including a two kilometre waterfront promenade.

Curators:  

Pi Li
Dr. Pi Li is the Sigg Senior Curator, Visual Art, of M+. He has previously curated exhibitions including the M+ Sigg Collection – Four Decades of Chinese Contemporary Art in Hong Kong in 2016, Right is Wrong: Four Decades of Chinese Art in M+ Sigg Collection at Whitworth Gallery in Manchester and Bildmuseet in Umea 2015 and 2014; Under Construction at Tokyo Opera Museum in 2002; Moist: Asia-Pacific Media Art at the Beijing Millennium Monument Art Museum in 2002; Fantasy Zone at Art Museum of Dong A Daily in 2001 and Beijing Modern Art Center in 2002; Image is Power at He Xiangning Art Museum in Shenzhen in 2002. Previously, Pi Li served as the curator of Media City Seoul in 2006; and Director of the 2006 Chinese Contemporary Art Awards, and the Deputy Executive Director of the Art Administration Department at the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA, 2001-2012). Pi Li earns his Ph.D. Degree in Art History from the Central Academy of Fine Arts.

Isabella Tam
Isabella Tam is the Assistant Curator, Visual Art, of M+. She organised M+ Sigg Collection – Four Decades of Chinese Contemporary Art (HK, 2016), Mobile M+: Inflation! 2013 and Song Dong: 36 Calendars in 2013. Prior joining M+ in 2012, Tam held curatorial positions at public institutions at the Hong Kong Visual Arts Center, and was a curatorial fellow at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in the UK. Her publications include Right is Wrong - Four Decades of Chinese Art of the M+ Sigg Collection (2014), Veil Unveil-works of Stella Tang in 2010. 

Ethan Cheng
Ethan Cheng is the Assistant Curator, Visual Art of M+. He organised the Mobile M+: Live Art exhibition (2015). Prior to joining M+, he was the assistant curator and project manager at Para Site.