In Shanghai, the PIMO Contemporary Art Festival Sets Out to Bring the Art World to the Masses
In Shanghai this week, two stalwarts of the local scene are celebrating a partnership that’s loaded with potential. That the specifics of their new venture, its output and direction, are still decidedly undecided is of little concern to these proven—and powerful—“artrepreneurs.”
Both boasting serious connections and clout, collector David Chau and artist Xu Zhen launched the inaugural edition of the PIMO Contemporary Art Festival on Wednesday in collaboration with Chau’s C.C. Foundation, marking the one-year anniversary of their eponymous art brand with something of a reinvention.
“We’re coming from completely opposite ends of the art world and meeting in the middle,” explains Chau of his collaboration with Xu. “I’m coming from the commercial side, the collecting side, and moving into the testing side of things. He’s moving from the art side into the commercial side. We meet in the middle. We just want to have fun, and make art interesting again.”
Dubbed a “contemporary art brand,” PIMO launched at last year’s ART021 fair. In what felt closer to a gift shop than a booth, the label sold prints, T-shirts, and sculptures derived from Xu’s work. Certainly popular with the crowds, it was also in keeping with the art-as-commodity approach of Xu’s contemporary-art-corporate, MadeIn Company.
Fast-forward to 2015, and while limited editions still factor into PIMO’s plans, they’re now second to a proposed platform for content creation, art promotion, and more. “PIMO was created out of the fact that we think China needs a good commercial brand that connects the art world to mass media, regular people who like culture, something that talks to a wider audience,” says Chau.
In an already dense—if fledgling—arts ecology, what of PIMO’s role? “There are lots of museums springing up, but in terms of Shanghai and China there’s a lack of content. PIMO will fill that gap,” says Xu.
Citing the government-funded Shanghai Biennale as a similarly out-of-synch showcase, the artist added, “PIMO will be more flexible. We’re still in the thinking stages, but it will further define itself.”
Certainly PIMO’s founders present ample reason to get excited about what can best be described as a somewhat elastic venture. Part of a new generation of Chinese contemporary art, Chau and Xu have kept moving and in doing so, stayed ahead of their respective curves. For Xu, that meant a reinvention of what an artist is when he declared himself CEO of MadeIn Company in 2009, with an eponymous sub-brand launching in 2013.
Similarly agile, Chau began collecting in 2003 before going on to fund two of Shanghai’s top galleries: Leo Xu Projects and Antenna Space. He also co-founded ART021 art fair with Kelly Ying, who runs the fair with PR firm director Bao Yifeng. (The fair’s third edition is currently underway at the Shanghai Exhibition Center.) Perhaps typical of the flexibility that has seen Chau rise to arts champion, he reckons this week’s festival was something he and Xu hit on “just a couple of weeks ago.”
It’s an impressive debut that contrasts beautifully with this week’s altogether headier fair: taking place far from the glitz of downtown, PIMO Contemporary Art Festival occupies two sites in Songjiang suburb, including MadeIn Company’s sprawling warehouse, which is the real highlight of what’s on show here. Inside, “Inventing Ritual” is a 45-minute long curated sequence of works by 28 contemporary artists spanning performance, video, installation, and spoken word. “It’s not a performance; it’s a ritual,” declared co-curator and participating artist Lu Pingyuan, who conceived of the project with MadeIn and Zhao Yao, ahead of what marked its Asia debut following smaller-scale incarnations at Steirischer Herbst, and the Moscow and Ural biennales.
Across Shenzhuan Highway, Chau launches his C.C. Foundation with “Super Archives”: a tiny but punchy presentation of two works by Lu Pingyuan and Paul Chan, on show for the first time in China. “I thought I needed a statement for this first show of what the attitude of the foundation will be moving forwards. It’s completely different from everything else I do, which might seem to be more commercial. This is not about that: it’s going back to the basics of what I think a foundation in China can be.”
Also opening its doors for the first time is Shanghai’s second MadeIn Gallery. Close to the production facility, it’s a by-appointment-only affair, currently housing works by young artists Ding Lu, UMA, Wang Sishun, and of course, Xu himself. Adjacent are a series of open studios, including Zhou Xiaohu, Shen Fan, Liu Weijian, and 10 others. Definitely a district to watch, these past couple of years have seen more and more artists descend on Songjiang.
One of the more engaging arts happenings to hit Shanghai for some time, PIMO Contemporary Art Festival’s fun, community vibe, brings together the collecting, art, and commercial worlds to promising effect.