Shanghai artist Maleonn has been engaged in photography-based art only since 2004, following a career as a short-film maker. Craig Scott Gallery became Maleonn's first gallery (in late 2005) and continues to represent him and place his works with collectors worldwide. Since his inaugural May 2006 Transfigurations show at Craig Scott Gallery, much of note has happened that justifies understanding Maleonn not only as one of the most exciting and important photography-based artists working in China today but also as an artist who has made his mark worldwide in very short order. Maleonn’s work has generated a steady stream of recognition and accolades.
Just prior to the Craig Scott Gallery 2006 show in Toronto, Maleonn had been profiled in the “City of Dreams” program within the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and New York Times’ jointly produced series CHINA RISES. Three months after the 2006 show, “Chinese Story No 2” (edition of 2, extra-large size), one of the works on display during the show, for 144,000 $HK (over $US 20,000) at Sothebys Hong Kong’s Contemporary Asian Art Auction – almost certainly amongst the highest prices ever fetched for a photographic work by a just-emerging photographer. As Peter Goddard of the Toronto Star (the largest-circulation newspaper in Canada) had already written in April 2007, Maleonn is the "reigning fabulist among today's new crop of photographers with an almost child-like imagination producing lyrical digital fantasies.” In the that same year, the Frist Centre for the Visual Arts in Nashville mounted a major exhibition drawn from the Pantheon of contemporary Chinese photography, called “Whispering Wind: Recent Photography from China”. Maleonn’s “Chinese Story No 8” was selected to join works from a select group of China’s top photographers including Zhang Huan, Xing Danwen, Dodo Jin Meng, Rong Rong, Zhang Dali, and Lin Tianmiao.
In fall 2008, Maleonn received one of the world’s most coveted and prestigious photography prizes, the UK-based Spider Awards' Black and White Photograph of the Year. Maleonn’s “Chinese Story No 2” won in the Fine Art Category and then in the overall category for Best Photograph of the Year by a professional photographer. Also in 2008, four of Maleonn’s works from his “Days on the Cotton Candy” were curated into a major exhibition called “China Design Now” at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum; one of those works was given pride of place as the two-page frontispiece of the book published by the V&A to coincide with the exhibition. Following the recognition generated in the UK by the V&A show, Maleonn was showcased by BBC World TV as one of China’s cutting-edge artists in the lead-up to the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.
In Spring 2009 alone, Maleonn was given the cover of three major arts magazines or journals: Quebec's leading visual arts magazine VIE DES ARTS; DESCANT, a leading literary and visual arts journal in Canada; and one of Europe's top photography magazines, Italy-based ZOOM Magazine. In summer 2009, Maleonn was selected as one of eight artists in Eli Klein Fine Art's "Passing Through China" group exhibition in New York City of the leading contemporary art photographers working in China today..
See below for more detail, with hyperlinks to the various sources.
Craig Scott Gallery has a full inventory of Maleonn works which have not sold out, including prints unique to and only available from Craig Scott Gallery. These unique works include a special 40 x 60 cm format for print #2 in the edition of 15 for two series -- Unforgivable Children and Shanghai Boys -- and a special 50 x 60 cm format for print #2 in the Chinese Story series. Many of the approximately 35 works that included the special 2/15 print have been sold but some still remain available. These represent the current best value for Maleonn's work, as they are priced below the larger format of the rest of the editions of 15. Their smaller size has also proven highly popular for collectors wishing to display one or more Maleonns in smaller living spaces.
The single-word "Maleonn" is the nom d'artiste, in Western script, for Ma Liang. Maleonn lives and works in Shanghai. While Maleonn had classically trained as an artist, with a focus on painting, at the Fine Arts College of Shanghai University from which he graduated in 1995, his first career was that of a commercial short filmmaker. By 2004, his artistic television commercials had made him a well-known figure, and even a sort of cultural icon, in the creative community in Shanghai and to some extent to the wider populace to whom his commercials appealed. It was the same year (2004) in which he received an advertising community peer award – roughly translated, an Award as one of the Best Commercial Video Directors in China, from China Advertising Pointer Magazine – that he decided to try his creative hand at still photography.
He started to show his photography only in 2005. In May 2006, he had his first solo show outside Asia (outside China, he had also had a solo show in Singapore in 2005), at Craig Scott Gallery. The exhibition “Transfigurations” was part of the annual CONTACT Photography Festival in Toronto and consisted of approximately 30 works from four series created between 2004 and 2006. The series in the show involved complementary narratives about the evolution of Chinese identity where multiple contemporary influences (from various globalizations to China’s frenetic capitalism) intersect with deep historical currents (from traditional culture to the Mao period). Maleonn's photography – alternately playful and edged with the macabre – juxtaposes, with singular artistic power, widespread feelings of dislocation and unease at the pace of change in today's China, on the one hand, and the welcoming of new horizons of self-expression and cultural vitality, on the other.
A year after his inaugural solo show in North America, Maleonn again exhibited with Craig Scott Gallery for the CONTACT Photography Festival in May 2007 with the 2007 CONTACT theme being The Constructed Image. Maleonn’s show, “Labyrinth,” was selected as a Feature Exhibition at CONTACT 2007. Works were drawn from four series – Self-Portrait, Portrait of Mephisto, Book of Taboo and Disappearing Baby – with one image from a just-completed series, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In relation to the show’s theme, Maleonn commented on his theatrical and painterly photographic world by saying that it “cannot be completely classified.” He turns to aesthetic expressionism “to demonstrate the labyrinth of our spirits,” preferring his work “to be the same as my spiritual world: complex and profound, kind and wicked, naïve and cruel, suspicious and trustful, painful and happy, all existing at the same time and becoming more real by virtue of their interaction.”
Biography has clearly played a shaping role in Maleonn’s art. Maleonn's father was Shanghai's leading opera director at the time of his banishment to a re-education camp during China's Cultural Revolution, and his mother was a noted film actress. The theatrical and the filmic are clear influences in his work. But so is a resolute independence of mind and freedom of spirit that must partly stem from being separated from his parents and raised by extended family in Shanghai. From the intersection of these influences and propelled by sheer innate artistic creativity and technical talent, Maleonn has emerged as a major artist and cultural figure in 21st Century Shanghai.
Since the May 2006 “Transfigurations” show at Craig Scott Gallery, much of note has happened that justifies understanding Maleonn as one of the most exciting and important emerging artists working in China today. His work has generated a steady stream of recognition and accolades. The following list contains only a sampling of highlights, is not in chronological order, and will shortly be updated:
* In fall 2008, Maleonn won one of the world’s most coveted and prestigious photography prizes, the UK-based Spider Awards' Black and White Photograph of the Year. This competition includes 13 categories, and Maleonn won in the Fine Art Category and then in the overall category for Best Photograph of the Year by a professional photographer. His winning entry was “Chinese Story No 2”, which was first exhibited at Craig Scott Gallery in Maleonn’s “Transfigurations” show of May 2006. The competition was meticulously juried; the jury included the Head of Photography for the Tate Galleries in the UK, the Program Director of Sotheby's Institute of Art, the Director of Fratelli Alinari Photography Museum in Florence (the oldest photography-focused art museum in the world), the former President of the British Institute of Professional Photography, and the founder of Galerie Baudoin Lebon in Paris (one of the world's most respected photography galleries).
* Four of Maleonn’s works from his “Days on the Cotton Candy” were curated into a major exhibition called “China Design Now” at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, to take place from March to July 2008. One of those works was given pride of place as the two-page frontispiece of the book published by the V&A to coincide with the exhibition.
* In the lead-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Maleonn was showcased by BBC World TV as one of China’s cutting-edge artists.
* Maleonn’s “Chinese Story No 3” was selected for the 2006 International Digital Art Awards (IDAA).
* From October 18 to November 27, 2007, four of the five works in Maleonn's Midsummer Night's Dream series were selected for pride of place display within a major group exhibition -- Rising Prospects and Flying Blessings -- in Shanghai at the newly opened EPSON Imaging Gallery (epSITE), which has moved from elsewhere in Shanghai to Shanghai's 50 Moganshan Road art gallery complex (M50). Curated by one of the most respected art scholars in China, Gu Zheng of Fudan University, Midsummer Night's Dream No 1 graced the cover of the show's literature.
* From June 22 to October 7, 2007, the Frist Centre for the Visual Arts in Nashville mounted a major exhibition drawn from the Pantheon of contemporary Chinese photography. The exhibition was called Whispering Wind: Recent Photography from China. Chief Curator Mark Scala has selected Maleonn’s “Chinese Story No 8” (image #6 of the enclosed artists’ images) along with works from a select group that includes Zhang Huan, Xing Danwen, Dodo Jin Meng, Rong Rong, Hong Lei, Li Tianyuan, Sheng Qi, Zhang Dali, Wang Gongxin, Yuan Shun, Sze Tsung Leong, and Lin Tianmiao.
* Three months after the Toronto CONTACT 2006 show, “Chinese Story No 2,” one of the works on display during the show, sold for 144,000 $HK (over $US 20,000) at Sothebys Hong Kong’s Contemporary Asian Art Auction (extra-large edition). This is certainly amongst the highest prices fetched for a very recent work by just-emerging photographer.
* On November 11, 2006, Peter Goddard, Art Critic for the Toronto Star (Canada’s largest newspaper), wrote an article comparing two art fairs taking place in Toronto that weekend, the Toronto International Art Fair (TIAF) and the boutique Toronto Alternative art Fair International (TAAFI). Craig Scott Gallery was participating in TAAFI. In his article, Goddard chose Maleonn’s “Priority” (image #16 of the artist’s images) as the sole image ‘illustrating’ the article, referring to Maleonn’s “stunning” and “fabulous photography.” Of the (high) hundreds of artists at the two fairs, Goddard singled out Maleonn as one of five “names to watch.” In spring of 2007, Goddard identified the 10 must-see events at the 2007 CONTACT Photography Festival and gave pride of place in a full-page spread to Maleonn’s ‘Book of Taboo No. 2’; Maleonn was described by Goddard as the “reigning fabulist among today’s new crop of photographers”)
* Maleonn was given the cover in spring 2009 of three major arts magazines or journals. Click HERE to see "Book of Taboo No 17", which graced the cover of Quebec's leading visual arts magazine Vie des arts; HERE for "Unforgivable Children No 6", which graced the cover of DESCANT, a leading literary and visual arts journal in Canada; and Click HERE for "Little Flagman No 2", which was the cover of one of Europe's top photography magazines, Italy-based ZOOM Magazine, for its March/April issue.
* At Photo Miami 2008, Maleonn’s work was featured by Craig Scott Gallery, and many viewed him as the ‘discovery’ artist of the entire art fair. The leading collectors magazine, ART+AUCTION, selected a Maleonn image as the image to accompany its listing of Photo Miami within the coverage of all the art fairs taking place in Miami in December 2008.
* In summer 2009, Maleonn was selected as one of eight artists in Eli Klein Fine Art's "Passing Through China" group exhibition of the leading contemporary art photographers working in China today. For a review in which Maleonn is the centrepiece, see James Donald, "Passing by China: Turns Heads in New York"C-Arts Magazine, June 16, 2009
* Maleonn was curated into the historic April-June 2010 “Reshaping History -- 2000-2009 Chinese New Art” exhibition in Beijing. This exhibition is easily the most important contemporary art show in China over the last 20 years. Indeed, it was widely considered as a coronation event for the most important contemporary artists in China today. There were a total of 291 artists, and Maleonn, despite his relative youth and having begun his art career essentially only in 2004, was part of the most important “Main Theme” segment, which consisted of 140 artists; these were the artists considered the established top artists in China. An English summary of the who's who of the show curators and jury can be found here: HERE.
"I have a strong desire to 'manipulate' the objects, in an attempt to have them affected by me, and in turn become a part of the framework I have designed for my photos. They serve as a narrative medium for me and a symbolic code for my work." (Maleonn, Interview, January 2006; for the entire interview, click on the link above)
"My photography...is just like life: unpredictable and full of hints, but no answers...We [younger-generation artists such as Maleonn] are trying to understand the deeper meaning of our culture." (Maleonn, Interview, "City of Dreams" in CHINA RISES series, CBC Television with the New York Times and other partners))