Isidro Blasco in Shanghai

Urban space, and how it shapes and constricts our everyday lives, is the major concern of Spanish-born, New York-based artist Isidro Blasco, who trained as an architect but whose work straddles the realms of photography and sculpture. Blasco begins each piece with a series of snapshots of a single space or environment, all taken from the same fixed location. These photographs are then arranged alongside one another to create a composite image with obvious debts to the Analytic Cubism of Braque and Picasso and the Polaroid collages of David Hockney, but Blasco takes the process one step further, building his patchwork pictures into three-dimensional forms.

His individual photos are laminated and mounted on flat wooden planes, which are fastened together into bulky wooden armatures — some wall-bound reliefs, others freestanding easel-like sculptures. Instead of a flat, smooth picture plane, you have something more like a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces don’t quite fit into one another, creating a jagged, almost topographical rendering full of sharp angles and disquieting fault lines. The result invariably overturns our perception of such familiar architectural spaces as a city block, the facade of a structure, or an apartment interior, adding a political edge to what might otherwise be a rather quotidian image.

In the past, Blasco has used this method to interpret his house and neighborhood in Queens. For his latest series, on view at Shanghai’s Contrasts Gallery through May 7, he turns to that Chinese metropolis, which perhaps more than any other city exemplifies the country’s rapid modernization. From the Top of the Tower gives a bird’s-eye view of Shanghai’s sprawling growth, with pointy skyscrapers exploding out in all directions. Meanwhile, New Courtyards shows the cramped city at street level, and Old City Interior 3 deconstructs a claustrophobic apartment. And in House 1 and House 2, Blasco adopts a new form, embarking on what looks like a logical next step in his development. These photo-less freestanding wooden sculptures are ripped apart in their center — the artist’s most direct statement to date about the dark consequences of architectural ambition.   

Here are his recommendations for art to see this weekend in Shanghai.

1. Qiu Anxiong: Void and Existence at Bund 18 Creative Center, through May 23

"You have several videos projected in different parts of the gallery — onto walls, columns, and the floor — and they are all landscapes of rural China. At first, nothing seems to happen in the videos, but if you wait a minute, you will see a bird flying by or a drop of rain falling on water. Qiu gives us these amazing time windows and nothing else. They are nostalgic for the China that modernization has left behind. I can relate to this perception of reality, the longing for a specific moment that will never come back. Another reason to appreciate Qiu: He does not follow the herd of Chinese art, thank god."

2. Chen Hangfeng at iCANDY Design Studio

"This young artist makes traditional Chinese cutouts, but the figures he cuts are of company logos and symbols of power and money. It’s a great slap in the face of the Chinese art world that is developing as we speak. If there is any contribution from this side of the world to the global conversation in art, it is has to do with this, the so-called 'art capitalism.' Hangfeng has made a huge white flag with large Olympic-style circles. When I first saw it, I thought that it was promotion for the upcoming Beijing games, with (why not!) the sponsors literally making the shape of the symbolic seven rings. How easy it was for me to accept something so disgusting and immoral. Welcome to the Matrix world!"

3. Cui Xiuwen at Osage Shanghai, through May 4

"These images all have 'angel' in the title and show a pregnant teenager in a contemplative mood. Besides their sexual appeal, I am very attracted to the small corner of the building that we can see in these pictures — a piece of the roof on which the girl is standing, like a giant. For me, the roof is the most characteristic aspect of Asian architecture. While walls, both inside and outside, are minimized to almost nothing, just a translucent rice paper, it is the sloped roof where the aesthetic of the culture is most evident. In some of these works, not even a corner of a roof is visible. But the girls are angels — they can fly."

4. Li Pinghu: Honeycomb at BizArt, closed April 27

"This artist spent a month planting flowers in the streets of Shanghai, and he decorated his tricycle with a photo display so that passersby could see what he was up to. This sort of activism is dangerous business in this country; but I guess because he was making the city nicer, he did not get into too much trouble. The gallery had documents of the performance, a stack of flowerpots arranged in a city-like structure, and large aerial photos to show where the action took place. The intellectuals in this city are always going to think that the past has to be preserved — that it is a shame that the old Shanghai is disappearing in favor of an unattractive, often dehumanizing, city. Are they right? Ask any resident here, and they will tell you that they would much rather live in the new skyscrapers and have clean, wide streets than hang on to the romantic, but smelly and decrepit, old Shanghai. I don’t blame them."