Shanghai has been up a little more than a week, long enough for a number of media reviews, blog posts, and general discussion points to emerge. One piece that seems to elicit particular comment is Zhang Jian Jun’s installation Vestiges of a Process: Shanghai Garden (2009).
Down in the shadowy basement and back halls of the museum services division, this is known affectionately as the piece with the bricks. Not just your garden variety red clay bricks, but some 3,000 antique grey bricks taken from the remains of buildings dating to the high-times of 1920s Shanghai, recently demolished to pave the way for new construction.
Of course, bringing over 3,000 bricks from China is not as simple as dropping them off at the post office. Weighting in at over 11,000 pounds, the fifteen crates of individually packed bricks were flown from Shanghai to Los Angeles aboard a cargo plane, and then loaded onto a truck to San Francisco, accompanied by a museum registrar the entire way.
Because of earthquake concerns, the bricks stacked around the rock platforms needed to be secured against movement. With bricks fresh from a demolition site, this meant carefully cleaning the surfaces of loose debris so that adhesives could bond. As a result, the museum’s preparation team vacuumed a lot of bricks.
Each brick was carefully placed by the artist, who took advantage of the wide expanse of North Court to extend his installation in all directions. The completed work combines all those bricks with two pink silicone rubber scholar’s rocks (taihu), a silicone rubber vase, and tiny bits of artificial greenery emerging from the cracks. It’s an evocative statement about the transition between the city old and new, a theme our visitors will find woven throughout Shanghai.
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