|Beijing Door - Xingfu Cun Lu (Happiness Village Street)|
Despite the clammy metallic air, this evening on my way back to my hotel I saw that people were still eating stacks of dumplings and chuan'r (skewered lamb - maybe!) at roadside tables outside Mr Shi's Dumplings and children played around all the apartment compounds. Two pigtailed girls on the backs of their mothers' bicycles sang at the tops of their voices. Elementary school kids in red Young Pioneer scarves rode home on the backs of motorscooters, or in some cases up front while a baby was carried on the back. No child is strapped in anywhere, I note, and most babies are carried in arms - it seems that prams and strollers are accessories of the very upwardly mobile. Babies seem generally contented and are rarely fretful, I would think as a result of the constant cuddling and contact. But I won't romanticise; twice in one week I have seen parents chasing wailing small children down the hutong, threatening them with a broom. Babies are everywhere I look, although statistically few city people have taken advantage of the relaxation of the One Child Policy - raising a child in Beijing or Shanghai is expensive.
High schoolers in their shapeless brightly coloured track suits loitered - loudly - at the snack cart on the corner, in the time-honoured tribal ritual behaviour of teenagers everywhere. The bicycle repair lady was having a shouted altercation with a customer, and motor scooters and tiny tin can "beng beng" taxis wove their way in and out of the traffic, often driving on the footpath. Bicycles are often left unlocked, casually leaning on their stand or lying on the ground, although everyone has stories to tell of stolen bikes. People ride whilst smoking, and making calls on their mobile phones. One night I crossed the road at around ten thirty and saw a most beautiful young woman, like a young Gong Li, black plait flying in the wind, riding high above the traffic seated on a giant stack of recycled cardboard, while her husband pedalled the three wheeled vehicle carrying it all. She looked like a goddess, surrounded by every imaginable kind of wheeled vehicle.
|Cell phone addiction on Gongti Bei Lu - on the footpath|
|David Diao, "Let a 100 Flowers Bloom"|
|David Diao, "Pardon Me Your Chinoiserie is Showing"|
|David Diao - Kline and Malevich|
|Li Lin, Decameron|
|A child enjoys Dai Dandan's installation at the Arte Nova Art Fair|
In my visits to studios, in Shanghai, Hangzhou, Chengdu as well as Beijing - 18 so far with more to come - I have had fascinating encounters with many artists, including Wang Guofeng and Wang Qingsong on the eve of the opening of the Beijing Photo Biennale at the CAFA Art Museum, Qiu Xiaofei preparing his show for Pace New York next year and reflecting on his childhood in far north, frozen Harbin, Bingyi and Bu Hua (both of whom feature in my book about women artists in China) and Liu Zhuoquan who is thinking about his exhibition in Melbourne next year and planning a new installation project of more than 6000 of his painted bottles. Liu says he thinks of his bottles as a library containing everything in the world.
|Liu Zhuoquan in his Beijing studio, photo LG, reproduced with permission of the artist|
|The writer with Bu Hua in her studio filled with her collection of antique dolls and tin toys, image reproduced with permission of the artist|
Chen Zhen, who died (much too young) in Paris in 2000, was a significant artist with a hybrid Chinese and European identity. Although after 1986 he essentially lived and worked in Paris, his personal history and deep cultural roots lay in China, and specifically in Shanghai. From the mid-1990s he returned over and over to a city on fast-forward. Shanghai was undergoing a massive, controversial transformation, in the process of becoming the global megalopolis it is today. The current exhibition at Shanghai’s Rockbund Art Museum presents works from this period, which curator Hou Hanru explains reveal a balance between Chen’s examination of a dramatic external reality and a conceptual criticality. Sometimes witty, sometimes profoundly beautiful and melancholy, Chen Zhen’s works are steeped in his identity as a Chinese artist at a historical “tipping point.” As the artist said in his online project Shanghai Investigations, “without going to New York and Paris, life could be internationalized.”
Entering the Art Deco spaces of the Rockbund Museum, visitors encounter the rather spectacular Purification Room (2000–2015), a large space filled with everyday objects—sofas, TVs, chairs and tables, bicycles and shopping trolleys—all entirely coated with mud, as are the walls and floor. Traditionally, Chinese medicine used mud to cleanse and detoxify, and Chen Zhen thought of it as representing purity, simplicity, the natural world, and the peace of being laid to rest. The experience is one of stillness and silence, as if we have entered a mysterious unknown civilization revealed by an archaeological excavation. The quotidian artifacts of our modern daily lives seem to have a greater significance, becoming unfamiliar and strange.
Click HERE to read the rest of that review.
And read my next post to find out about Huang Yong Ping at the Red Brick Art Museum, Ai Weiwei at Galleria Continua, and more!