KEVIN BERLIN, "This is Not a Prada Bag: Kevin Berlin's 'Double Happiness' @ Fu Xin Gallery" © 2009

By Sarah Hammer © 2009
This is Not a Prada Bag: Kevin Berlin's 'Double Happiness' @ Fu Xin Gallery

Fresh on the heels of Yoko Ono's messianic voyage to Shanghai comes another
luminary from the New York art world, Kevin Berlin, with his first Shanghai
solo exhibition, "Double Happiness" at Fu Xin Gallery. One of the most
internationally acclaimed and famously collected artists in the world, Berlin's
work is in the private collections of Kim Basinger, Buzz Aldrin, Henry
Buhl, David Letterman, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Quincy Jones, General Motors
Corp. and Carnival Cruise Lines. To name a few.

Who knew Kim Basinger was so on the ball?

He was also honoured honored by President Reagan at The White House as a
YoungArts Presidential Scholar in 1983.

In spite of (and probably due to) his own vaunted position in the upper
echelons on the international art world, Berlin is famous for his satirical
send-ups of class structure, status, money, and power in American society,
particularly New York. His oil paintings in previous shows like "Slaves of
Fashion" (@ the GalleryBar in New York 2007), in their blurry, heavy-handed
depictions of high society cocktail parties, seek to capture both the ritzy
actuality of the subject matter, combined with the dirty secrets of those
in attendance.

With "Double Happiness" Berlin continues to juxtapose the facade of the scene
or object with its seedy underbelly, but has shifted his gaze to Shanghai,
and addresses greater, aggregate clich��s of rapid Chinese economic growth, modernization, consumerism, commoditization, power, status, wealth,
social disparity, you get the idea.

Basically, what you have is a New York artist coming to Shanghai for six months
and regurgitating a tongue-in-cheek social critique of Chinese materialism
-- an outsider telling an insider's story. In other hands, this would raise all sorts of alarm bells, but Berlin is pretty slick in implicating
himself at the top end of the modern Shanghainese pyramid of exploitation.

Here is the primary work that greets you upon entrance to the Fu Xin Gallery, entitled "East Meets West":
Inspired by his visit to The Glamour Bar (where else would you go if you're a famous artist in Shanghai), "East Meets West" depicts a typical scene at the bar, but the guests have been rearranged left to right in descending order of status, wealth, and therefore importance and worth. The bookends are 'wealthy Asian business man' and 'anonymous street beggar', with wealthy Asian businessman's wife being one step above the bottom. Pictured next to the businessman is a self-portrait of Kevin Berlin himself, an international, jet-setting James Bond character, complicit in the jubilant exploitation of the un-wealthy.

The title of the work, "East Meets West", refers not to the meeting of two separate cultures but to signify a new global paradigm of Wealth Vs. Poverty. Of course, the artist has the gun.

"East Meets West," presumably, is Berlin's disclaimer for the exhibition, the majority of which is all on the second floor -- his way of saying, "Yes, I know. I'm rich and from New York, take what I'm doing with a grain of salt."

Anyways, "Double Happiness" is comprised of around 30 works of oil on canvas depicting cigarette packs, money, and fake designer bags. The painstakingly detailed recreation of the object -- symbols of wealth, status, and power -- clashes with their inherent worthlessness, and the single objects themselves paradoxically signify both worth and worthlessness. It's all pretty clever.

And so, Kevin Berlin came to Shanghai looking for heart and soul and found a crushed pack of Double Happiness. Take that for what you will. "Double Happiness" runs until March 4 at the Fu Xin Gallery.

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