Zhang makes the case for fe­male cu­ra­tors

Shanghai Daily - - COVER STORY - Wang Jie

Fe­male cu­ra­tors are not of­ten found in the art com­mu­nity, but Zhang Bing has al­ways tried to push her­self and the artists she chooses to the pub­lic.

Of­ten clad in chic dresses, a smil­ing Zhang fre­quents var­i­ous ex­hi­bi­tions in town and some in the coun­try.

“But to tell you the truth, ev­ery time be­fore I go out for an open­ing, I feel so re­luc­tant, as I think that I am a bit so­cial pho­bic,” she said. “But that’s the job I chose, and I have to over­come this.”

A grad­u­ate from the ar­chi­tec­ture de­part­ment at Wuhan Uni­ver­sity of Tech­nol­ogy, Zhang found her emo­tional link with art early in life and has never re­gret­ted it.

In 2006, she re­ceived fi­nan­cial sup­port from the Getty Foun­da­tion for a train­ing pro­gram of art di­rec­tors around the world and a year later she took the role of vice di­rec­tor at the Duolun Mu­seum of Modern Art. From 2013 to 2015, she was in­vited by the Con­sulate Gen­eral of Ger­many in Shang­hai as the yearly cu­ra­tor for the Geothe Open Space.

Dif­fer­ent from her peers, Zhang al­ways prefers to work with young emerg­ing artists for her ex­hi­bi­tions, but some big names such as Liu Jian­hua and Shi Jin­song are also on the list of her pre­vi­ous projects.

In 2007, she was cho­sen as one of the cu­ra­tors at the Lianzhou In­ter­na­tional Pho­to­graphic Fes­ti­val.

Q: When men­tion­ing the pe­riod of China’s con­tem­po­rary art from 2005 to 2010, what are the three ad­jec­tives you might use?

A: Ir­ra­tional, car­ni­val and par­a­bolic.

Q: Could you tell what was your most un­for­get­table ex­hi­bi­tion or role you took dur­ing the pe­riod?

A: In 2007, I was cho­sen to be vice di­rec­tor of the Duolun Mu­seum of Modern Art in Shang­hai. For me, that was a dra­matic change in my ca­reer path. I was quite young at that time, and I didn’t have any ex­pe­ri­ence in op­er­at­ing an art mu­seum be­fore, though I did re­ceive train­ing in mu­seum man­age­ment at New York Uni­ver­sity in the US. Such train­ing or ex­pe­ri­ence was quite rare for any Chi­nese per­son in the area, and per­haps that was my plus.

Be­fore 2000, there was ac­tu­ally no of­fi­cially ap­proved con­tem­po­rary art ex­hi­bi­tion at an of­fi­cial art venue, let alone a con­tem­po­rary art mu­seum or pro­fes­sion­als re­lated in this area. De­spite some neg­a­tive voices, I was pushed on the role as a mu­seum di­rec­tor, and I was fac­ing a lot of chal­lenges and con­tro­versy. How­ever I had no choice but to make my own judg­ment pre­cisely.

Q: From 2005 to 2010, China’s con­tem­po­rary art­works fetched a se­ries of as­tro­nomic fig­ures at auc­tion while the bub­bles were com­ing, what do you think of this pe­riod?

A: This pe­riod is akin to a huge turbo and ev­ery­one in­volved in the con­tem­po­rary art world was in­side, but un­for­tu­nately we were nei­ther the maker nor the de­cider of this turbo move­ment. In 2006 when the paint­ing cre­ated by Zhang Xiao­gang reached nearly US$1 mil­lion at Sotheby’s, fi­nally China’s con­tem­po­rary art was rec­og­nized by the main­stream and the gov­ern­ment be­cause of the out­side im­pact. How­ever, such a “car­ni­val” ini­ti­ated by for­eign cap­i­tal was never based on art and cul­ture at the be­gin­ning, but in­stead, the profit and game rules of cap­i­tal­ists. So the evap­o­ra­tion of the bub­bles was doomed.

I have to work harder to re­ceive recog­ni­tion from oth­ers, oth­er­wise they would say ‘That is be­cause she is pretty!’

Q: The launch of ShCon­tem­po­rary in 2007 marked the en­trance of for­eign­in­vested art fairs in the city. In your eyes, what were the ad­van­tages of for­eign-in­vested art fairs, and do such ad­van­tages still re­main?

A: A pro­fes­sional team, strong PR, abun­dant art re­sources of in­ter­na­tional top gal­leries and a dis­tinc­tive im­age build­ing, were all the ad­van­tages of ShCon­tem­po­rary. But now such ad­van­tages grad­u­ally fade. The West Bund Art & De­sign and ART021 al­ready gar­nered these ad­van­tages that might only be pos­sessed by for­eign-in­vested art fairs be­fore, as their founders have ac­cu­mu­lated enough knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence when co­op­er­at­ing with in­ter­na­tional art fairs in the past five years. What’s more, these lo­cal art fairs, com­pared with for­eign-in­vested art fairs, are more lo­cal­ized with a thor­ough un­der­stand­ing to­ward China’s own cul­ture. Also the per­cent­age of Chi­nese buy­ers and over­seas buy­ers is dif­fer­ent from pre­vi­ous years at lo­cal art fairs. The in­crease in new Chi­nese buy­ers is also one of the rea­sons for their suc­cess with a trust­wor­thy re­la­tion­ship with for­eign buy­ers that they de­vel­oped in pre­vi­ous years at the fairs.

Zhang Bing Art cu­ra­tor

Q: As a cu­ra­tor, did you find enough op­por­tu­ni­ties or de­vel­op­ment in your ca­reer path dur­ing the pe­riod from 2005 to 2010?

A: More ex­hi­bi­tions and more plat­forms with more in­ter­na­tional ex­change.

Q: In China, do you feel it is dif­fi­cult to be a fe­male cu­ra­tor? Is there any prej­u­dice against fe­male cu­ra­tors?

A: My cu­rat­ing has al­ways been fo­cused on so­cial themes rather than com­mer­cial ones. I have never cu­rated a sin­gle ex­hi­bi­tion for the sell­ing of art­works. That’s my chal­lenge, as it meant fewer op­por­tu­ni­ties. How­ever I thought if I could in­sist, things might be dif­fer­ent.

But I was so naive to de­spise the power of cap­i­tal, and now I find that its evil power even ex­ceeded what Marx said in his “Cap­i­tal.”

There al­ways ex­ists the prej­u­dice against fe­male cu­ra­tors and artists in the art com­mu­nity. We are not evenly paid with our male peers. For me, my ap­pear­ance also blurs my tal­ent in the eyes of oth­ers. In fact, I have to work harder to earn recog­ni­tion from oth­ers, oth­er­wise they would say “That is be­cause she is pretty!” — an ex­cuse which might off­set their lack of tal­ents. But I am not alone, you might read Nancy Etoff’s “Sur­vival of the Pret­ti­est” for a more sci­en­tific ex­pla­na­tion.

Zhang Bing is one of the few fe­male cu­ra­tors in China’s con­tem­po­rary art scene who al­ways prefers to work with young emerg­ing artists. — Ti Gong

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