Outside the window, in Shanghai’s busiest shopping district, North Shaanxi Road buzzes with activity; but inside the sunlit salon, silence reigns over the ornate wooden staircase and artwork-covered walls. You’d almost think you’d stepped a century back in time to the age of Shanghai’s gilded splendor. Look closely, though, and a few incongruous details—paintings of modern cityscapes set inside a window frame; television screens flashing a single character at a time; and a KTV room playing a retro hit, its video oddly scrubbed of people—tip you off that you’re in an exhibition space.
This is Prada Rong Zhai, the site of artist Li Qing’s exhibition Rear Windows.
这里是 PRADA 荣宅，艺术家李青“后窗”的展览现场。
Li came up with the idea to use windows as a medium while searching for different ways to approach contemporary painting. He noticed that windows framed scenery much like a camera’s viewfinder, and on certain types of windows, glass panes divided up a scene into multiple compositions. By placing scenes inside of old window frames, they were imbued with an immersive realism.
As Li’s art evolved, the windows that appear in his work have taken on new meaning. In a way, they’re bearers of history. Not only do they evoke a sense of familiarity, the windows of a building can be also understood as a testament to the structure’s past and present.
This meditation on the past and the present is at the core of Li’s Tetris Windows, one of the most noteworthy series of the exhibition. Mounted within antique window frames, Li’s paintings center on the historic architecture of Shanghai. Unlike past works, select panes have been replaced with multimedia collages of text, photos, and other materials. These additions draw attention to the changes that each building has undergone over the years, hinting at a larger narrative of how a city’s growth can have a lasting impact on local culture and lifestyle. This idea of time and change is also evident in the paintings themselves, which depict the same scene at different times of the day. Certain sections radiate with the glow of the early-afternoon sun while other sections are drenched with the indigo hues of dusk. Through these ambitious concepts and approaches, Li’s windows have become more than just an aesthetic device—they offer unique glimpses into the artist’s worldview.
Rear Windows shares similarities with Hitchcock’s eponymous film in that they’re both designed to show only what the artist wants the audience to see. The exhibition, through jarring contrasts between old and new, is designed to influence viewer perception, Li says. In doing so, his work forges unlikely connections between windows, people, architecture, and city.
Unlike typical galleries, with their sterile white walls, Rong Zhai feels lived in, a sensation that Li heightens in this show. In the ballroom, bedrooms, and music room, he places works that resonate with each space, inviting the viewer to question their relationship to the constantly changing world outside. A century-old colonial house converted to a nontraditional exhibition space or art gallery, says Li, “gives these works a fuller context, makes the art itself more diverse.”
Take, for example, the grand ballroom, which was once used to host formal events and extravagant parties. In a gesture of irony, Li chose the space to display Things You Can Take Away and Hangzhou House Series. The former is a collection of carpets designed in the likeness of floor tiles found in old Hangzhou housing. In it, Li plays with the contrast between the soft comfort of rugs and the harsh imagery of scuffed tiles covered in dirt. Per the artist’s intent, these carpets are completely overshadowed by the glitzy stained-glass skylight overhead.
For Hangzhou House Series, Li covers the ballroom’s windows with photos of buildings in the Hangzhou suburbs. These houses were built based on the locals’ ideas of modern luxury, but they’re a far cry from the palatial estate that these photos are now showcased in.
With the presence of different time periods and urban cultures, the coexistence and combination of different viewpoints and ideologies, a dialogue begins between past and present, and a relationship is established between people and the city. And this is precisely what Li hopes to show through Rear Windows. “Everything is you see here,” he says, “is part of the show.”
Tickets are available via the Prada Rong Zhai WeChat Mini Program.
Nov. 7th 2019 ~ Jan. 19th 2020
Prada Rong Zhai
186 North Shaanxi Road
Jing’an District, Shanghai
People’s Republic of China
前往 PRADA 荣宅的微信小程序 即可购票。
2019 年 11 月 7 日 ~ 2020 年 1 月 19 日
陕西北路 186 号