Fury in China over works of art ranking women according to their appearance


“What kind of environmental forces cultivate and tolerate such brazen people?” Zhang Ling, a Chinese film scholar who teaches at Purchase College at State University of New York, wrote on Weibo, a popular Chinese social media platform. “The so-called ‘freedom of expression’ and ‘artistic creation’ should not be used as a fig leaf for the despicable.”

OCAT Shanghai apologized on Friday, saying it was withdrawing the work and temporarily closing the exhibition so it could take some time to “reflect” on its mistakes. Organized by Dai Zhuoqun, the exhibition, titled “The Circular Impact: Video Art 21,” showcased the works of 21 Chinese videographers over the past 21 years. The show was scheduled to run from April 28 to July 11.

“After receiving everyone’s reviews, we immediately re-examined the content of the artwork and the artist’s explanation,” the museum said. “We found the concept of the work and its English title to be disrespectful and offensive to women.”

Within Chinese artistic circles, opinions were mixed. Some have expressed concerns over the handling of the case by OCAT Shanghai, saying the museum could have done more to defend the artist or at least facilitate a discussion between Mr. Song and his critics. Others said misogyny was a deeply rooted problem in the art world and that the museum should not have given a platform to amplify Mr. Song’s work from the start.

OCAT Shanghai, Mr. Song and Mr. Dai did not respond to requests for comment.

Guangzhou-born Mr. Song, in his thirties, is known as a provocateur – a kind of “bad boy”. His work often mocks political bureaucracy, and on at least one occasion, censors have removed a piece of his from a government-backed program.

In a critically acclaimed video installation titled “Who’s the Most Beautiful Guy?” (2014), Mr. Song persuades Chinese naval officers to ride a roller coaster and records their efforts to remain serious and calm. The installation was included in the Triennale du Nouveau Musée in 2018.

Like many artists, Mr. Song has sought to challenge notions of what he sees as political correctness. In a 2013 performance art piece titled “One is not as good as the other,” he ranked 30 volunteer young women as “pretty to ugly” and paraded them down a track in front of a audience in that order. The work was part of a larger project by Mr. Song called “The Origin of Inequality.”


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