What is contemporary?: Gucci ponders big questions at Shanghai’s Minsheng

Exhibition
In  'No Longer/Not Yet', Gucci's Alessandro Michele shuns the usual exhibition tropes when dealing with the Chinese market, in favour of an exploration of the elusive idea of the contemporary. Pictured: Glen Luchford's work.
(Image credit: Courtesy Xie Yingjie)

When approaching the Chinese market, luxury houses tend to look to the past, emphasising the brand's heritage and authenticity by delving into the archives. 

Alessandro Michele’s tenure as creative director has seen a reinvention of the Gucci (opens in new tab) vision which has been universally acclaimed. His first exhibition, at the Minsheng Art Museum in Shanghai (opens in new tab), shuns all the usual exhibition tropes. 

Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben's What is the Contemporary? is a book that has deeply influenced Michele and his collections for Gucci. He and co-curator Katie Grand use Agamben's ideas to explore the notion of 'contemporary', and the complicated and contradictory concept of time within the fashion industry.

‘After the first women’s fashion show we wanted to do something in Asia and I talked with Katie [Grand] about bringing together artists to open up the conversation on the contemporary,' explains Michele. 'Philosophy can give you the opportunity to reflect and be curious.’

Seven Chinese and international artists use installations, photography, paintings and sound design to explore this concept, alongside the quotidian normality of fashion. Gucci's involvement is deft, and the artists are at the forefront: radically different to previous exhibitions brought to mainland China.

Multimedia artist Cao Fei comments on China’s rapid urban expansion, showing video footage featuring the area surrounding her studio being destroyed alongside an army of robot vacuum cleaners repeatedly sweeping a Gucci carpet.

Nigel Shafran’s images document the creative processes that lie behind the nine month lead-in to Michele's current collection. 'How,' he asks, 'can a designer pre-figure the contemporary?'

Unskilled Worker, an artist Michele discovered on Instagram, has created a series of naive portraits depicting subjects wearing Gucci. ‘It’s a work in progress between real life and social media,' Michele reveals. 'It’s a fresco of my life with the company.’

‘What we were trying to do was provoke a question,' adds Grand. 'It felt like the right time to do a different kind of exhibition.’

Trying to predict the elusive pulse of the contemporary is a gamble. Staging a Gucci exhibition with no actual fashion content is even more so. Let's hope Michele's bold move fuses the creative, the contemporary and the commercial. 

The exhibition hosts seven Chinese and international artists

The exhibition hosts seven Chinese and international artists, utilising photography, paintings and sound design to ponder the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben's question: 'What is the Contemporary?'.

(Image credit: Courtesy Ren Yong)

Army of robot vacuum cleaners sweeping a Gucci carpet

The work of multimedia artist Cao Fei, pictured, uses video footage of her studio being destroyed, as well as an army of robot vacuum cleaners sweeping a Gucci carpet, to comment on China's rapid urban expansion.

(Image credit: Courtesy Lu Yuchao)

Gucci Tian

Gucci Tian, by Alessandro Michele, 2015.

(Image credit: Courtesy Xie Yingjie)

Gucci Tian (full view)

Gucci Tian (full view).

(Image credit: Courtesy He Yuchao)

Motivation behind the theme

Michele explains the motivation behind the theme: 'I talked with Katie [Grand] about bringing together artists to open up the conversation on the contemporary. Philosophy can give you the opportunity to reflect and be curious.’

(Image credit: Courtesy Ren Yong)

Agamben’s book

Agamben's book is at the heart of the exhibition; his ideas are used to explore the complicated and contradictory concept of time within the fashion industry. Pictured: Li Shurui's work.

(Image credit: Courtesy Xie Yingjie)

Dress in exhibition

Asking how a designer can pre-figure the contemporary, Nigel Shafran’s images document the creative processes that lie behind the nine month lead-in to Michele's current collection.

(Image credit: Courtesy Xie Yingjie)

Contemporary art of Rachel Feinstein

‘What we were trying to do was provoke a question,' adds Grand. 'It felt like the right time to do a different kind of exhibition.’ Pictured: the work of Rachel Feinstein.

(Image credit: Courtesy Lu Yuchao)

Series of portraits depicting subjects wearing Gucci

Unskilled Worker's display, pictured, features a series of portraits depicting subjects wearing Gucci, of which Michele, who discovered the artist, says, 'it’s a work in progress between real life and social media. It’s a fresco of my life with the company.’

(Image credit: Courtesy Ren Yong)

INFORMATION
’No Longer/Not Yet’ is on view until 16 December

ADDRESS

Minsheng Art Museum
Building F, Red Town
570 West Huaihai Road, Shanghai

VIEW GOOGLE MAPS (opens in new tab)