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Powerful art that strikes, startles and asks us questions

THREE Chinese artists and a Norwegian photographer are chosen Martell's "Artists of the Year." Their works are on exhibit at the Shanghai Art Museum. Wang Jie reports. Five years ago, when Martell launched its "Artists of the Year" in China, it didn't get much attention. Some people then said the annual event would become another promotion for fine cognac.

Time has shown, however, that the showcased artists have taken their place at the forefront of the contemporary art stage.

Whether last year's Liu Ye and Xia Xiaowan, or Zhang Xiaogang and Lin Tianmiao in 2006, all demonstrate powerful works with the power to startle.

This year's exhibition at the Shanghai Art Museum features the works of four "Artists of the Year" in four different fields: Chinese Gu Wenda (concept art, installation), Jiang Jie (sculpture), Zeng Fanzhi (abstract oil) and Norwegian Solve Sundsbo (photography).

The exhibition runs through Saturday.

Over the past five years, 21 prominent international artists working with varied media have been recognized for extraordinary artistic achievement.

This year, there are four more.

Li Lei, deputy director of the Shanghai Art Museum, says the selection is based on suggestions from the art community, ranging from museum directors to collectors and critics.

Jiang Jie, the only female artist among the four, attended the opening while the other three, who are famous internationally, did not.

Jiang creates smooth, delicate, rather chilling sculptures of children, some melancholy and vacant. The feeling is supernatural, distant and mythical.

"Like many female artists I express the theme of 'caring for the fragile,'" Jiang says. "When a person is born, the weak and fragile body is surrounded by chaos and pressure of the big world."

Jiang focuses on the early conditions of human life. The figures are often petite and tender. The bright colors and smooth shapes resembling porcelain convey a feeling of surprise, fear, restlessness and awe.

Some child figures are daunting in size.

"We tend to give our care to and focus for children, so I wanted to see the effect of enlarging them."

Some faces bear adult expressions such as emptiness.

Norwegian photographer Solve Sundsbo plays with light and shadow, hues and shapes suggesting timelessness.

In his "Edita" series, Sundsbo presents the porcelain white body of a female model against a dark backdrop: her clean-cut short hair,delicately curved brows, bright red lips andsharp eyes exude both seduction and innocence.

The photographer then projects leopard and zebra strips - patterns that are emblematic of fashion - as dark shadows on the body.

Gu Wenda, who is based in New York, still carries out his experiment with traditional calligraphy.

Zeng Fanzhi's "Mask" series reveals his unusual concepts and techniques in oil.

The show includes a canvas titled "Portrait L" created in 2008. Everyone in the art community knows that "L" is Lorenze Helbling, the owner of ShanghART and "godfather" of Chinese contemporary in the West. In the painting, Helbling is seated, but he doesn't wear Zeng's trademark mask.

Date: through July 25, 9am-5pm

Venue: Shanghai Art Museum, 325 Nanjing Rd W.

Tel: 6327-2829


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