Infiltrating Chicago gallery spaces with their full-fledged, cutting-edge work that constitutes a genuine avant-garde and blows away domestic products, Chinese photographers now bid fair to take over the city in this show in which a battalion of shooters presents the manifold perspectives that mix and match in the metropolis of Shanghai. Grappling with the destruction of old Shanghai and the disappearance of traditional lifestyles, and the eruption of a postmodern cityscape and its accompanying consumer culture, the contributors are uniformly visual social critics, probing into the glitzy decadence of middle-class high-rise existence, commenting mordantly on the lives of those still trying to cling to the past, and spoofing real estate ads, among any number of other skeptical moves. These artists are not political activists, and one suspects that their cultural approach is deeply rooted in their psyches rather than being a result of a dictatorial regime’s censorship. The banner image in the show is Yong Fudong’s large-format staged color portrait of the “First Intellectual,” a man with wildly tousled hair who stands in the middle of a wide avenue dressed in a business suit and holding a briefcase in one hand and a large brick in other; blood drips from his face and his eyes and lips are agape with bewildered astonishment, indeed panic. A consummate conceptual artist, Fudong explains the image best—the First Intellectual has been wounded, but he cannot decide whether to throw his brick at society or smash it in his own face. Would that the West were so deep and sophisticated, but perhaps senility has set in and ambivalence has taken flight. (Michael Weinstein)
Through December 23 at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, 600 S. Michigan.