View of “The Youth Sale Store,” 2010. Pékin Fine Arts, Beijing.

“The Youth Sale Store” is an art project launched by a group of young Shanghai artists—an exhibition-turned-mobile-art-shop. The first stop was hosted in the Shanghai M50 Creative Park, and the next stop is Beijing. Participating artists collect, display, and sell the works of other artists in their own peer networks, and new documentary photographs accompany each new exhibition. Hosting galleries provide not only space, but also promotional and sales assistance to the artists, and buyers enjoy offers below market price. In a way, the price discount is representative of a kind of maturity that the young artists assume in order to sustain their projects. Yet at the same time, the artists do not shy away from showing off their youth. All of the showcased pieces are small, as well as physically and thematically light. They employ a variety of individualized methods of satirical and nonsensical expression that embody the artists’ creative self-confidence and come together to form the distinctive quality of the exhibition. Set apart from the last generation’s rise from the underground, this age group has grown up in a holographic society and has established a cognitive style fostered under knowledge-intensive education. Their attention is much more attuned to the frank dialogue occurring between the individual and the internal mind, and they are able to promptly express the content of this interchange through the materials around them.

Artists Gao Mingyan, Li Mu, Lu Jiawei, and Tang Dixin, as members of “Comfort Group,” were invited by the Baltic Triennial to live and study in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. Gao Mingyan, the first to arrive there, bought a lot of old books, confronting the language barrier by asking people to translate parts into Chinese; based on this smattering of knowledge, he used paper sculpture to construct his understanding of what he read on top of the books themselves. Next, Dreams of Vilnius is an expression of Li Mu’s wanderings through the city. The artist cannot help but recreate the recollections of travel in this unfamiliar, beautiful little town; he covers his memory with dust as he recollects the dustiness of the city, he scrawls with his fingertips as he fantasizes about lingering there. Li turns himself into his dream, becoming an outsider of Vilnius who in fact never leaves the town. Lu Jiawei bought the remaining stocks of a soon-to-be bankrupt company in Vilnius, and out of this purchase, Making Worlds was created. He used his own brand of logic to configure an alternative fantasy world filled with individual dreams mixed in with social reality. Lu Yonglei’s paintings show a clothesline tied up with memories, drying under the sun, while Su Chang’s installation paintings record his years growing up, that familiar yet often-overlooked, indelible period of one’s life.

Within the past two years, more than a few self-organized experiments by young artists similar to “The Youth Sale Store” have appeared, including “Flea Market” and “Observation Society.” They all serve as attempts at exhibitions beyond the typical scope of alternative gallery spaces, and they can admittedly be regarded as a profitable supplement to the hurriedly built ecology of Chinese contemporary art. But whether or not this kind of self-starting practice also reflects what young artists confront in contemporary society is a question that an ecosystem maintaining experimental work cannot hope to answer yet. It is obvious that forging ahead with the spirit of experimental art and fully building its ideological framework are projects that first require the time and space to fully display works. But non-profit organizations like the “Mommy” foundation supporting “The Youth Sale Store” are still one in a million in this country. Finally, after strategizing a plan of attack, it’s a matter of looking to young people, and whether or not they are joining hands and ascending to the stage, or vacillating somewhere in between inertia and momentum.      Guo Fang