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"David Hockney: Paper Trails" – Shanghai's Artistic Sensation of the Summer

This summer, the Modern Art Museum (MAM) Shanghai is set to dazzle art enthusiasts with "David Hockney: Paper Trails," the artist’s largest-ever exhibition of works on paper. Opening on June 18, 2024, and running until September 10, 2024, this blockbuster event will feature 110 captivating works. Curated by Shai Baitel, Artistic Director of MAM Shanghai, and the renowned actor and curator Russell Tovey, the exhibition promises to take visitors on an immersive journey through Hockney's exceptional mastery of mood and ambiance. This exhibition marks a significant cultural moment, showcasing the universality of Hockney's art and its resonance with audiences worldwide.

David Hockney: Paper Trails
David Hockney: Paper Trails

Interview with Shai Baitel, Artistic Director of MAM Shanghai

Gen de Art: How did the idea for this exhibition come about? What was the inspiration behind showcasing Hockney’s works on paper?


Baitel: The idea for the exhibition “David Hockney: Paper Trails” emerged many months ago when it became possible to assemble an outstanding selection of works on paper and to present it at the Modern Art Museum (MAM) Shanghai, in China, a country that Hockney visited and which influenced him as he laid out in his 1982 book “China Diary.” The inspiration for “Paper Trails” is that the presented works are equal in power and beauty to paintings. Moreover, Hockney himself is said to share that opinion.


Gen de Art: How do you think this exhibition will resonate with the Chinese audience, considering Hockney’s Western-centric body of work?


Baitel: I believe in the universality of art. Great art holds the promise to touch the viewer regardless of geography and culture. And my first thought and duty as a curator is to make art accessible, to contribute to the enjoyment and education about art. Having said that, the Modern Art Museum (MAM) was diligent to not only lay out the curatorial vision for “Paper Trails” but also to provide an introduction that couches the exhibition in the Chinese cultural context. With or without these tools, we are hopeful that our audience will very much enjoy the encounter with Hockney’s works.


Gen de Art: Can you talk about the selection process for the 110 works included in this exhibition? What criteria were used to choose these specific pieces?


Baitel: When we reviewed the works that would constitute “Paper Trails” we agreed on the approach to shed light on the expansive, emotive breadth of David Hockney’s practice. It was a relief that our approach to focus on ‘atmosphere’ and ‘atmosphere-making’ allowed us to form discrete yet interrelated categories for engaging with his work. More specifically, the art in “Paper Trails” is grouped into six distinct affective-atmospheric groupings - Playful / Somber, Intimacy / Distance, Fragmented / Peaceful.


Gen de Art: How does this exhibition align with MAM Shanghai’s mission to foster communication between the international art community and Chinese audiences?


Baitel: As Artistic Director of MAM Shanghai I am first and foremost focused on our audience. MAM’s mission is to excite the imagination, advance learning, and nurture creativity through the presentation of exhibitions like “Paper Trails” and programming of extraordinary quality in an engaging experience. MAM Shanghai considers itself a cultural bridge fostering dialogue and exchange. Hockney’s experience in China left a mark on him and his art-making. We are proud to provide an opportunity for our visitors to experience one of the living giants of the Pop Art movement, with guidance available to understand his place in art history through a Chinese lens.



Interview with Russell Tovey, British Actor and Co-Curator

Russell Tovey, British Actor and Co-Curator

Gen de Art: As someone primarily known for your work in acting and writing, what drew you to curating art exhibitions, particularly this one?


Tovey: I love art. It changed me. And I hope that I’m also known for my work on the podcast “Talk Art,” started in 2018. In conversations with artists, I am trying, together with Rob Diament, to figure out in plain language what contemporary art is all about. I’m grateful for the opportunity to co-curate this David Hockney exhibition, in China no less, a place that the artist has visited and which left a lasting impression on him.


Gen de Art: Can you share any personal anecdotes or insights about your interactions with David Hockney or his works that have influenced this exhibition?


Tovey: When I was a teenager I encountered Hockney’s seminal work “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures),” leaving an indelible mark and forever drawing me to the work of this great artist. To this day, it touches me how so many emotions, subtexts, and messages can be embedded in a work of art. It is true that the more one knows the more one sees. And this helped me to co-curate this beautiful exhibition. But it's also true that it’s the beauty of art that has the power to touch us emotionally, that we can feel what the artist provided us with. We just need to look and we will see.


Gen de Art: What do you hope visitors will take away from their experience at “David Hockney: Paper Trails”?


Tovey: I hope “David Hockney: Paper Trails” will draw a big audience. Few experiences have such power to touch us, to move us, to change us, than an encounter with art of the level of Hockney. While we will never know for sure, I wish that seeing “Paper Trails” will resonate and stay with our visitors of all walks of life.


Gen de Art: With the inclusion of Hockney’s recent digital works created on an iPad, how do you see the intersection of traditional and modern art techniques in his oeuvre?


Tovey: Hockney is curious about technological advancement and unafraid to explore its use for his art-making. We expect great artists to be open to change and Hockney sure fits the bill. Moreover, he never ranks art techniques. For him, works on paper, for example, are neither inferior nor superior to drawings or oil paintings - or iPad works, for that matter. Personally wary of it, it is reasonable to assume that Hockney already checked out artificial intelligence and is contemplating its application to his art-making. This artist is unafraid.


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