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Looking at a masterpiece with new eyes and new attitudes

ENDURANCE is one of the criterion used in judging a masterpiece.

That's one reason why "Rent Collection Courtyard," a group sculpture created in 1965, still shines glamorously at the Shanghai Art Museum.

More than 44 years since its creation, "Rent Collection Courtyard" has been changing with the values of different periods. It has provoked controversy in the art world and society. First it caused profound shock and high admiration, then fierce criticism and then complete indifference.

"The purpose of this exhibition is to offer a chance to reinterpret this group sculpture, more from the point of view of art instead of politics," says Xiao Xiaolan, curator of the exhibition.

At the exhibition hall, visitors seem to be entering a "time tunnel" - depicting the miserable life of Chinese peasants before the founding of People's Republic of China.

Nearly 114 figures cast in fiber-reinforced plastic deliver a massive visual impact: A poor starving mother whose efforts to soothe her hungry children prove in vain; a mourning widow who is worried about her unburied husband at home; a blind grandfather who is unable to change his granddaughter's fate or his own.

Each of the figures has its own identity and represents members of the exploited in the old times.

According to Xiao, a team of 20 artists, teachers, students and some folk clay sculptors, were invited to create the scene which shows the peasants' paying rent to Liu Wencai, a brutal landlord of pre-liberation days in the summer of 1965.

"The team went to the depths of the countryside to visit peasants who still had fresh memories of the oppression," Xiao explains. "Some of them acted as models and provided helpful advice on clothing and props."

The group sculpture has become, in fact, a combination of revolutionary realism and revolutionary romanticism.

The artistic value and society's attitude toward "Rent Collection Courtyard" didn't change until 1999. Cai Guoqiang, a world-famous Chinese contemporary artist, asked some sculptors to create a replica called "Rent Collection Courtyard in Venice" for the Venice Biennale. But this created a great controversy in the art world as Cai adopted a different style for the stereotyped work.

"After the passage of several decades, where artistic concepts are relatively free and multi-polarized, there exists the possibility that we can have a more objective and balanced view of 'Rent Collection Courtyard' as both a work of art and a cultural phenomenon," Xiao concludes.

Date: through June 11, 9am-5pm

Address: 325 Nanjing Rd W.

Tel: 6327-2829


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