This traditional view of Mao is quickly punctured by Yu Youhan's hilarious 2005 Warhol pun Untitled (Mao/Marilyn), the young androgyne Mao of Li Shan's 1995 RougeFlower, the Nintendo Mao of Feng Mengbo's 1994 Taxi Taxi, the decaying Mao of the Gao brothers' acerbically watchful 2000 An Installation on Tiananmen, the art connoisseur Mao of Shi Xinning's 2000-01 Duchamp Retrospective Exhibition in China, and the flirtatious Mao of the same artist's 2001 Dialogue, to name but a handful.
Strong currents of irreverence surge throughout "Mahjong," thanks to children of Mao and Coca-Cola such as the Luo brothers, whose vulgar, comedic keepsakes of fast-food capitalism enliven "Dialogue China Part II," a group show at Elins/Eagles-Smith Gallery. (Also at Elins/Eagles-Smith, Xing Danwen's urban fiction dioramas bring the post-human romance of Tsai Ming-liang's 1994 Vive L'<0x2009>Amour to mind.) The exhibition's sub-strands of subject matter include militarization and the "little emperors" and troubled girls of China's one-child policy.
While mahjong might not be the deepest or most revelatory thematic motif for an exhibition devoted to a nation, it more than suits both BAM's multitiered or tiled space and the rich varieties of the Sigg collection. "Mahjong" doesn't have to beg for repeat viewings the magnitude of the show and quirks of its arrangement demand it. In general, contemporary Chinese painters tend toward large-scale representation, perhaps most successfully when as with Zhou Tiehai's looks at Joe Camel one gets the sense that the grand gesture itself is being mocked. But one of the exhibition's best works is also its tiniest: Lu Hao's A Grain of Sand (2003) is a 1/4-by-1/4-inch memorial to the individual, a figure perpetually under assault whether by communism or hypercapitalism.
DIALOGUE CHINA PART II
Through Sept. 30
49 Geary, Suite 520, SF
HALF-LIFE OF A DREAM: CONTEMPORARY CHINESE ART FROM THE LOGAN COLLECTION
Through Oct. 5
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 Third St., SF
MAHJONG: CONTEMPORARY CHINESE ART FROM THE SIGG COLLECTION
Through Jan. 4, 2009
Berkeley Art Museum
2626 Bancroft, Berk.