SHOWS THAT MATTER: Chinese Artist Song Dong's History of "Doing Nothing" at Pace

Installation view of "Song Dong Doing Nothing" at Pace Gallery
(© Song Dong, courtesy Pace Gallery)

WHAT: Song Dong: “Doing Nothing”

WHEN: January 18 — February 23, 2013

WHERE: Pace Gallery, 510 & 534 West 25th Street, New York

WHY THIS SHOW MATTERS: Bringing together almost 20 years of work by Song Dong, “Doing Nothing” offers a glimpse at the complexity and recent evolution of one of China’s foremost Conceptual artists. The exhibition spreads throughout two of Pace’s Chelsea galleries, with one location focused on installations, photography, and performances created between 1994 and 2012, and the other dedicated to Song’s more recent works exhibited at dOCUMENTA 13 and the Kiev Biennial. “Doing Nothing” is the artist’s first New York exhibition since his 2009 solo show in the Marron Atrium at MoMA.

The exhibition at Pace’s 534 West 25th Street location is a small-scale retrospective of sorts, with videos and photographs documenting site-specific installations and performances, ranging from “Breathing,” for which Song used only his breath to create a patch of ice on Tiananmen Square, to “Facing the Wall,” a performance in which Song travelled to India and imitated the life of a Zen monk, sitting still and facing a wall for 10 days. Four of Song’s food landscapes are projected onto the walls of a dark, back room in the gallery, offering a lighthearted counter to the heavier works in the show, one also more reflective of Song’s levity and humor.

The 510 West 25th Street location contains two large sculptural works that Song created entirely from the refuse of China’s building boom, which, composed of white walls, small window frames, and occasional drains, appear both precarious and balanced, ambitious and desperate. Depending on one’s perspective they might be either symbolic of the resourcefulness of poverty, or a commentary on excess, waste, and disparity within China.

Song’s more recent pieces embrace ambiguity, perhaps even striving for it as a means to force his audience to acknowledge and confront their potential biases in interpreting his work. One wall of the space at 510 West 25th Street is lined with over a dozen translations of a short text on the virtues of doing nothing. Like much of Song’s work, the translations — which were compiled into a book for dOCUMENTA — evoke deep layers beneath their seemingly straightforward presentation.