Above sea

Contemporary art, urban culture, and the fashioning of global Shanghai

By Jenny Lin

Above sea


  • Hardcover
  • Paperback

Book Information

  • Format: eBook
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-3262-8
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Published Date: November 2018
  • BIC Category: Society & social sciences / Cultural studies, China, The arts / Art & design styles: from c 1960, Art History, HISTORY / Asia / China, ART / History / Contemporary (1945-)
  • Series: Rethinking Art's Histories


Shanghai, long known as mainland China's most cosmopolitan city, is today a global cultural capital. This book offers the first in-depth examination of contemporary Shanghai-based art and design - from state-sponsored exhibitions to fashionable cultural complexes to cutting edge films and installations. Informed by years of in-situ research, the book looks beyond contemporary art's global hype to reveal the socio-political tensions accompanying Shanghai's transitions from semi-colonial capitalism to Maoist socialism to Communist Party-sponsored capitalism. Case studies reveal how Shanghai's global aesthetic constructs glamorising artifices that mask the conflicts between vying notions of foreign-influenced modernity and anti-colonialist nationalism, as well as the city's repressed socialist past and its consumerist present.


'This book is such a pleasure to read. Jenny Lin goes underneath and alongside Shanghai's most conspicuously glittering surfaces, born of Chinese Communist Party-sponsored capitalism and transnational cultural investment, to question complexly pastiched urbanism and art. With welcome frankness, she explores Shanghai-based creations in the context of this global city's recent violently contested past and heated, hybridised present. Generously threaded with insights from interdisciplinary research, as well as interviews with such major figures as Xu Bing and Gu Wenda, Above sea illuminates issues of art, urbanism, capital and worlding in and emanating from China's largest mega-city.'
Maud Lavin, Professor of Visual and Critical Studies and Art History, Theory and Criticism, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago

'In Shanghai, ground zero for today's globalised trade in mass-produced commodities, the visual arts, from painting and calligraphy to fashion wear to architecture, take part in projecting the image of China's economic success. Above sea rejects the view of Chinese artistry as a binary pastiche of exoticised Asian traditions lightly clothed in western conceptual modernisms. With clarity and insight, Jenny Lin applies a visual cultural approach to art history to reveal how artists, designers and urban projects should instead be understood in local terms, as deeply engaged in either masking or exposing Shanghai's less glamorous realities, past and present.'
Jerome Silbergeld, P. Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Professor in Chinese Art, Emeritus, Princeton University

'The nuances Lin teases out through her selection of probes make the book a timely and relevant contribution to the nascent discourse on the rapid rise of Chinese contemporary visual art in the last two decades.'
Art Journal

'Above Sea offers its readers a fresh and creative interpretation of Shanghai culture through a palimpsestic reading of its recent art history. Lin's beautiful, clear prose is a genuine pleasure to read and this book should appeal to specialists and general readers alike.'
Journal of Visual Art Practice

'Above Sea joins a growing number of studies which trace the complex dynamics and uneven cultural formations that have accompanied China's processes of hyper-urbanization. The book's individual case studies cover essential artists, designers and entrepreneurs at the same time as straying into less tried terrain in stimulating ways. The result is a study that has something to say to art historians, Chinese studies scholars and those interested in Shanghai's ongoing spatial transformations.'
Art History


Introduction: Locating global contemporary art in global China
1 From the ruins of heaven on earth
2 Shanghai's art in fashion
3 Biennialization-as-banalization, promotion and resistance
4 Installing a world city
From Shanghai to New York by way of conclusion
Epilogue: forgotten corners


Jenny Lin is Associate Professor of Critical Studies at the University of Southern California

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