Vivienne Westwood and New World heir Adrian Cheng collaborate in Shanghai exhibition

A Vivienne Westwood exhibition in Shanghai in conjunction with the K11 Art Foundation looks at the designer’s political and environmental activism and starts a dialogue with young Chinese artists

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 January, 2017, 6:33pm
UPDATED : Monday, 23 January, 2017, 6:33pm

“Get a Life” exclaim posters and billboards on the global debut of a Vivienne Westwood K11 exhibition in dialogue with Chinese contemporary artists. The expansive exhibition, curated by Alex Krenn from the Westwood brand, talks about the fashion and the political and environmental activism that has come to define the British designer’s work.

“Vivienne has been to China several times before,” says Krenn, “she especially likes the cultural heritage and arts, the paintings and calligraphy.”

In this exhibition, Westwood has put a heavy focus on projects (such as her Save the Arctic campaign with Greenpeace) which promote sustainable living and warn against overconsumption (her general ethos is to buy less, but buy lasting quality). These environmental issues are global, but seem much more prescient in China, which is so often plagued with headline grabbing ecological problems.

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It’s the first time the brand has done such an exhibition outside Britain, testament to the importance of the Chinese market, as well as the sway of Adrian Cheng, founder of K11 Art Foundation and the K11 malls.

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Hailing from one of Hong Kong’s wealthiest families, New World heir Cheng, is positioning himself as a global, cultural power player. His foundation has collaborated with some of the biggest art museums around the world, including the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, the ICA in London and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

It’s hard not to miss the irony of a shopping mall collaborating with a luxury fashion brand (albeit a rather eco-conscious one) to talk about climate change and overconsumption. There are masses of young, trend-hungry Chinese shoppers consuming the vast array of fashion and lifestyle products available at K11 Mall.

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Krenn admits there’s tension in the idea, but argues that, “this is an art space, and in these days everything becomes very versatile. There’s domestic and commercial things that move in art spaces, and arts that move in domestic or commercial space.”

In the “dialogue” part, KAF tasked young Chinese curator Song Zhenxi (currently curatorial director at the China Academy of Art’s Media City Research Centre) to curate a response to Westwood’s themes from Chinese contemporary artists, many of them millennials. The result: a exhibition titled ‘Monument of the Peach Blossom Valley’ referencing an old Chinese poem. Artists including Yu Honglei, Nathan Zhou, Sun Xun and Zhang Ruyi used painting, sculpture, installation and animation to talk about the impact humans have had on nature, and also draw out “that despite surface differences, there’s deep commonality between Western and Eastern approaches to the issue of human impact on the environment”, Song explains.

The exhibition runs until February 28.