“We Are Your Future”

Vinzavod Art District

Organized by New York gallery impresarios Ethan Cohen and Juan Puntes, “We Are Your Future” brought together 33 Chinese and Latin American artists and artist groups as a satellite event of the Moscow Biennale. The exhibition’s curatorial thesis, as voiced in writer Jonathan Goodman’s catalog essay, is that Chinese and Latin American artists are “inheritors of a legacy pushed to the side by the Eurocentric, imperialist attitudes of Western Europe and the United States, [and] are now ready to make their own mark in economics, politics and culture of today.” What does it mean to be someone’s future? Who gets to demarcate the “we?” And what is implied in the waiting? These questions went unanswered in this quirky ideological confluence of Clintonian liberalism, Seattle-style anti-marketism and collegiate post-colonialism on the banks of the Moskva.

The works, or at least the Chinese section, seemed more “past” than “future”—golden Fang Lijun busts, photorealist Chen Wenbo paintings, porcelain oil drops from Ai Weiwei. In a few cases, artists broke with their shticks. Wang Guangy delivered an installation of war preparedness posters from the Sino-Soviet split, hung above dirt furrows resembling trenches. Yue Minjun ditched his signature smiley faces, showing the first of a new series of historical paintings based on Chinese military calendars. The caricature of the USSR as a burly older communist brother, premised on the long-held memories of mid-career and older artists, seemed to run throughout many of the Chinese selections.

A few notable projects by younger artists—Peng Yu and Sun Yuan’s waxy sculpture of a Bin Laden-esque man bearing a Kalashnikov rifle and peering into a peephole in a plywood wall structure, or Jiang Zhi’s video of Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin impersonators running on a treadmill pulled the show together. A gripping Li Songsong assemblage of 33 two-tone sheets pinned to a wall depicted rows of shirtless US Navy officers on the deck of an aircraft carrier.

The standout on the Latin American side was a closed-room installation by Tania Bruguera, an ongoing project in which an ex-KBG agent uses interrogation techniques to teach “trust” to Russian volunteers in Dale Carnegie-style workshops. Teresa Margolles showed a set of “jewels” to great effect behind some extant iron bars in the space—the baubles were fabricated from broken glass resulting from drug-related gunfights.

If China-as-future was evident anywhere, it was in the exhibition venue, a new post-industrial gallery district called Vinzavod (“wine factory”) eerily similar not to Beijing’s Factory 798 but to the pre-fabricated art compounds that have attempted to follow on its success elsewhere in the capital. And it poked through in the details: the installation was supervised by Zhu Ceng, a veteran of the late-1980s “Beijingers in New York” circle of artists, or in the crew of Chinese migrant workers who came in at the last minute to do the hanging when the originally-scheduled crew never turned up.

Where exactly Latin America fits into this triangulation is the harder question to answer. Catalog essayist Fernando Castro Flórez spent pages arguing for a united front, aimed at cracking the remote and impenetrable Western art world. But the situation in China right now is more one of subtle negotiation than dialectical posturing, and given the variety of players from that world—which has supposedly “closed its ranks”—now falling over each other to enter the mainland game, such exhortations seem more idealistic than informed. A confluence in Russia of China and Latin America, perhaps, is the sort of thing that could only be imagined in New York.