Artists Exhibitions News United Kingdom

Fujiwara’s terracotta rioters spared from exile in China

Artist says Shanghai museum wanted them for free

An edition of Rebekkah, 2012, and its accompanying video was purchased for Leeds Art Gallery through the Contemporary Art Society. Photo: Joe Plommer

Simon Fujiwara’s installation about an East London rioter, closing today at the Contemporary Art Society, almost never made it to the UK. An edition of the work Rebekkah, 2012, and its accompanying video was purchased for Leeds Art Gallery through the Contemporary Art Society, but The Art Newspaper understands that a major Chinese art museum wanted to acquire it for its collection after the 2012 Shanghai Biennale.

As part of the commission, Fujiwara brought a young woman who had participated in the 2011 London riots to China with him. They visited factories and the terracotta warriors in Xian, after which he made a cast of her figure and created terracotta replicas of the woman. Around 100 of those then went on display in Shanghai. Fujiwara says they became “a grotesque almost endless army, less individual than the terracotta soldiers”.

The artist says a representative of the Power Station of Art, a contemporary art museum in Shanghai, contacted him to express an interest in the work, but when he offered a reduced price, they refused and said it was not possible to purchase work, rather, it would have to be donated. In an email sent to Fujiwara, the museum said: “The old Shanghai Art Museum, the organiser of the biennale, [has previously] destroyed works which were paid and produced in Shanghai, because the artwork export transportation [tax is too expensive].” The museum did not reply to requests for comment.

If the acquisition had happened, Fujiwara says, it “would have had a pleasing circularity to it, since the work could be read as a kitschy, easy game on their own historical national treasure. If I had not had the support of a gallery, it would have either remained there or been destroyed.”

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