City on the Edge: Art and Shanghai at the Turn of the Millennium

2021.5.22 - 2021.7.11

Installation view of “City on the Edge: Art and Shanghai at the Turn of the Millenniuma”.


Location:  UCCA Edge

The opening exhibition at UCCA Edge looks back at the moment Chinese contemporary art entered into global dialogue and the transforming urban fabric of Shanghai at the turn of the millennium. 

SHANGHAI, China — UCCA Edge opens in Shanghai with the inaugural exhibition “City on the Edge: Art and Shanghai at the Turn of the Millennium,” on view May 22, 2021 to July 11, 2021. This exhibition looks to the city UCCA Edge calls home at the juncture when China’s art world came to envision itself as part of a global contemporary, bringing together new and important works by 26 major Chinese and international artists, many with deep connections to UCCA and the development of contemporary art in China. Participating artists include Matthew Barney, Birdhead, Ding Yi, Fang Fang, Greg Girard, Andreas Gursky, He Yunchang, Hu Jieming, Huang Yong Ping, William Kentridge, Lee Bul, Liang Yue, Ni Jun, Shi Yong, Xu Zhen, Yan Lei, Yang Fudong, Yang Zhenzhong, Yu Youhan, Zhang Enli, Zhang Peili, Yung Ho Chang, Zhao Bandi, Zheng Guogu, Zhou Tiehai, Zhou Xiaohu. “City on the Edge: Art and Shanghai at the Turn of the Millennium” is curated by UCCA Director Philip Tinari.

In and around the year 2000, amidst emerging markets, reforming institutions, and artist-led organizations, a slate of exhibitions occurred that would expand the range of possibilities for experimental art in a city on the verge of a new international centrality. New art took root everywhere, from industrial warehouses to municipal museums, from retail space in unopened shopping malls to the opening ceremony of a major international summit. Two decades later, “City on the Edge” situates itself in the city’s multiplicitous cosmopolitan history, reflecting on the rapidly transforming urban fabric and the generative development in contemporary art by assembling important works that have brought this flourishing formation and provocative scene into being (as chronicled in the TV documentary series Arts and Artists, produced by Fang Fang (b. 1977, Beijing, lives and works in Beijing)), in dialogue with works that refract the city’s globalizing present. This exhibition follows in a tradition of UCCA opening exhibitions, begun by Fei Dawei’s “’85 New Wave: The Birth of Chinese Contemporary Art” (2007), that position a new museum in relation to the art historical context in which it will function. Seen today, these artists and their contributions allow us to reflect on how far the city and its cultural ecology have come and to understand the experimental ethos that underlies Shanghai’s current position at the forefront of China’s global art scene.

The monumental Bank of Sand, Sand of Bank (2000) by Huang Yong Ping (1954-2019, Xiamen) epitomizes the symbolic social and economic transformation of Shanghai from its semi-colonial past to modern international metropolis. The giant, disintegrating sand sculpture of the 1923 HSBC headquarters on the Bund occupied a central position at the 2000 Shanghai Biennale, held in the Shanghai Art Museum, which at that time occupied the former Shanghai Race Club.The architect Yung Ho Chang (b. 1956, Beijing) is represented by an updated version of the work he originally presented in 2000, diagramming at life size the living space of a typical Shanghai lane house. The biennale, the first edition in Shanghai to show foreign artists, marked the debut of Matthew Barney (b. 1967, San Francisco, lives and works in Long Island City, New York) in China, who returns to UCCA Edge with one of his recent water cast sculptures Khepera (2016/2021), surrounded by a suite of electroformed copper etchings. Likewise, William Kentridge (b. 1955, Johannesburg, lives and works in Johannesburg), who showed Shadow Procession (1999) at the biennale, is represented here by a new video work Sibyl (2020), which continues to explore the themes of memory and movement that have been constant in his work. Each of these artists were later subjects of major exhibitions at UCCA Beijing: Huang in 2008, Chang in 2012, Kentridge in 2015, and Barney in 2019. Other works originally debuted at the biennale include Lee Bul’s (b. 1964, Yeongju, South Korea, lives and works in Seoul), Anthem (2000/2012) and Andreas Gursky’s (b. 1955, Leipzig, lives and works in Düsseldorf), Shanghai (200), a carefully staged image of the atrium of the hotel in the then-new Jin Mao Tower, which suggests a contrarian hollowness in the implied power of global capital in order to create such a golden spectacle.

Revisiting artworks by some of the key artists who had participated in the notorious “Fuck Off” exhibition that ran alongside the biennale the same year poses a new juxtaposition with the dominant events and memories of Chinese contemporary art. As the biennale took place across town, He Yunchang’s (b. 1967, Lianghe, Yunnan province, livs and works in Beijing) repetitive but futile gesture by the banks of Suzhou Creek, as recorded in River Document, Shanghai (2000), suggests an alternative way of assimilating into the times and the fluidity of his environment. Tracking the daily transformation in the bustling cosmopolis outside his studio by Suzhou Creek—part of the venue for this exhibition—three Appearances of Crosses paintings (2000) by Ding Yi (b. 1962, Shanghai, lives and works in Shanghai) not only marks an important break in the artist’s stylistic development, but also changes in the register of the city as it glowed brighter and brighter under ever-growing highways and billboards.

A new generation of artists emerged in Shanghai around the year 2000, organizing their own exhibitions in the interstices of the city, as in the biennale satellite exhibitions “Useful Life” (2000) and “Twins” (2002). Under the backdrop of a concrete jungle, Yang Fudong’s (b. 1971, Shanghai, lives and works in Shanghai) Flutter, Flutter…Jasmine Jasmine (2002) offers a dreamy vision of two young lovers proclaiming their desire for each other and looking headlong into the future. In contrast, Liang Yue’s (b. 1979, Shanghai, lives and works in Shanghai) Blindsweet (2003) drifts between subjective imagination and hope that appears to be out of reach. Reenacting his 2002 performance piece March 6 at this exhibition, Xu Zhen (b. 1977, Shanghai, lives and works in Shanghai) once again stages a rebellion against the mutely quotidian—as in Shouting (1998/2005, edited 2021)—with provocative acts that are self-affirming while probing at the boundaries between self and others. In Disinfect (2015) by Yang Zhenzhong (b. 1968, Hangzhou, lives and works in Shanghai), urbanites from different walks of life perform their anguish for the camera, only to be muted and contorted by the slowed down playback speed until they become alienated objects under the audience’s gaze. This work, while more recent, directly channels the affect first explored in Yang’s 2000 piece I Will Die. 

The concurrent transformations in the urban fabric of Shanghai were captured in the photography of artists including Birdhead (Song Tao, b. 1979, Shanghai and Ji Weiyu, b. 1980, Shanghai; both live and work in Shanghai) and Greg Girard (b. 1955, Vancouver, lives and works in Vancouver). Birdhead’s photographs come from their on-going project documenting urban conditions in a post-industrial neighborhood in Pudong in the early 2000s, presented here in one of their signature assemblages, with the characters for “youth” carved atop. Five images from Girard’s “Phantom Shanghai” series (2001-2006) show the last standing houses in old neighborhoods then being demolished to make way for new developments. The new opportunities made available to Chinese artists as emerging wealth brought creativity into contact with commerce are the subject of Yan Lei’s (b. 1965, Langfang, Hebei province, lives and works in Beijing) subtle critique in seven paintings that form his conceptual gambit The Fifth System (2004), first showed as part of another periodic exhibition organized by Hou Hanru, who had led the 2000 biennale curatorial team.

The turn of the millennium marked critical periods in the artistic development of Chinese artists working in different mediums and their experimentations with material and scale in order to grapple with the curiosity, fear, anxiety, and anticipation of the new millennium and a new era in economical and technological development. Zheng Guogu (b. 1970, Yangjiang, Guangdong province, lives and works in Yangjiang) explores this anxiety with his long-term series 2000 AD, Rusty for Another 2000 Years No. 11 (1999-2008), in which he cast ordinary plastic consumer-product bottles in brass, enabling them to outlive us all. In the calendar-change of a lifetime, Hu Jieming (b. 1957, Shanghai, lives and works in Shanghai) constructs The Fiction Between 1999 & 2000 (2000), an epic collage of image and data that is prescient to our digitally eclipsed totality today, originally shown at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and recreated for this exhibition in an installation made for the gallery space at UCCA Edge. The Y2K nostalgia evoked stands in juxtaposition with Lee Bul’s meditations in Anthem (2000/2021) on the sinister warnings embedded in technological utopias: what if modern comfort is accompanied by anxiety rather than playfulness?

This period saw Shi Yong’s (b. 1963, Shanghai, lives and works in Shanghai) interest in deconstructing illusion and reality, as in The Moon’s Hues are Teasing (2002) and Gravitation – Shanghai Night Sky (2003-2004), while the expressionistic Zhang Enli (b. 1965, Jilin province, lives and works in Shanghai) turns towards introspection and reflections on the cultural milieu in a new attention paid to the personal and the tableaus of daily life. As a participant in the eye-opening 2000 Shanghai Biennale, Zhou Xiaohu (b. 1960, Changzhou, Jiangsu province, lives and works in Shanghai) spent the next decade making stop animation works—The Crowd of Bystanders (2003-2005) and the "Word Chains" series (2010)—that depict the normalized absurdity, violence, and other ubiquitous expressions of power by defamiliarizing everyday life. While resisting the “feminist” label at the time, Ni Jun (b. 1969, Shanghai, lives and works in Shanghai) confronts the eternal return of female pain with the experimental work Injury (2002), refusing to compromise with model answers to the inevitable questions of pain and happiness.

Tensions between the optimism of the past and the embrace for the future continue to animate dialogues with the present. The polyphonic arrangement of “Happy Birthday” by Zhang Peili (b. 1957, Hangzhou, lives and works in Hangzhou) in Just for You (1999) appears to be a stroke of inspired utopianism both at the time and in retrospect. As the new millennium approached Yu Youhan (b. 1943, Shanghai, lives and works in Shanghai), who first gained recognition in the 1980s for his abstract paintings and featured in the landmark 1989 Beijing exhibition "China/Avant-Garde," chose to continue to experiment with collage and paintings that echoed his own private works from the 1970s, including Black Painting (2000) shown here. Revisiting his career-making body of work with pandas in a new installation, Zhao Bandi (b. 1966, Beijing, lives and works in Beijing), stages in a video installation Panda 20 Years (2021) a wistful reflection on his relationship with youth. Finally, Zhou Tiehai’s (b. 1966, Shanghai, lives and works in Shanghai) iconic Buying Happiness/You Can’t Grow Healthy and Strong Without the Godfather’s Protection (1997) hints at the new primacy of consumer subjectivity that might be seen as a subtext to this entire moment of change.

Public Programs

During the exhibition period of “City on the Edge: Art and Shanghai at the Turn of the Millennium,” UCCA Edge will present a series of enriching public programs every weekend, including guided tours every Saturday, led by scholars and art practitioners across a range of cultural and artistic fields who will bring their expertise to an interdisciplinary approach to interpreting the artworks and the exhibition, as well as an irregular slate of talks and panels with artists and scholars. Every Sunday, a special performance work from the exhibition will take place all day inside the exhibition galleries. All events are free to the public, with limited capacity. Please register in advance. Please follow our official website, WeChat account, and other social media platforms for details. 

Sponsorship and Support

Housed in the EDGE tower by K. Wah International Holdings Limited (KWIH), UCCA Edge is designed by New York architecture practice SO – IL, in co-development with the Shanghai team of Coldefy & Associates Architects Urban Planners.

This exhibition is made possible with support from DS Automobile. Exclusive sustainable wall solutions is provided by Dulux. Special thanks to Moleskine. 

On the occasion of the exhibition “City on the Edge: Art and Shanghai at the Turn ofthe Millennium,” UCCA and Moleskine have collaborated to release a special edition UCCA & Moleskine notebook to celebrate the unique spatial design of UCCA Edge, with a sketch by lead architect Jing Liu, co-founder of SO – IL.

Works in the exhibition

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Huang Yong Ping

Bank of Sand, Sand of Bank

Sand and cement
350 × 600 × 430 cm
Collection of Guanyi Art Archive, Beijing Courtesy Shen Yuan

Hu Jieming

The Fiction Between 1999 & 2000

Installation, film, iron shelves, nylon string, blue spotlight, speakers, CD players
Dimensions variable

William Kentridge


Single-channel HD video, color, sound

Matthew Barney


Cast zinc
185.4 × 177.8 × 165.1 cm
Courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels

Shi Yong

The Moon’s Hues are Teasing

Installation, colored fiberglass, cloth, button, other textile, fluorescent tubes, speaker, DVD player
186 × 142 × 307 cm

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Installation Views

Installation Views

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Exhibition Support