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PARIS Spring 2004

During a recent trip to Beijing, I came across a gallery catalogue that included this quote from Mao Zedong: “What the West has, China will have. What the West does not have, China will also have.” Having had the experience of walking through European and New York based “international” art fairs, I can attest that western dealers, for the most part, still just don’t get what is going on in the Chinese art world. It is a reality that Chinese art rises in monetary value after the artist shows in Europe or the United States. But this will change.

In San Francisco, where I am from, I see the American Chinese community as business leaders whose vision seldom leaves the boardroom. Yet the classic Beijing young man of gentle birth as late as the early part of the last century spent his day falcon training and joining his friends in the fading afternoon for spirited conversations in the teahouses. Vestiges of this laissez-fare gentleman’s life can still be seen in Beijing today, and is frequently commented on and criticized by community elders. It’s wonderful to think of the Chinese once again as the immortal artistic, poetic old souls of the world. Not only are they writing and publishing the most scientific papers in the developing world, but the Chinese art has exploded into an exciting and “Red Hot” phenomenon.

China has the most vibrant art scene in Asia. In 1985, a show by Robert Raushenberg in Beijing inspired a generation of avant-garde artists, culminating in the China Avant-Garde exhibition of 1989. The works of 100 artists were featured, then retrospectively condemned following the events around Tian’anmen Square. During the 1990’s three schools of art emerged in Beijing—the “new generation” artists who relied on personal technique to depict the routines of everyday life, the “satirical realists” who used distortion to show angst, and “pop” artists employed commodities and political symbols. Embraced by Western art lovers,
some Chinese artists found success in scorning Western tastes and “idolatry” of money. Conceptual photography, arising from a performance art environment, appeared in the mid-nineties, as well as video, Internet and installation techniques. The problem of how to sustain this blossoming culture is now being faced by the Beijing art community. Many young artists have little chance to be recognized, and there are precious few galleries supporting new talent.

Happily, I did have the chance to see some of the best of what the Beijing art scene has to offer. The traditional Chinese arts such as ceramics, lacquer ware, jade carving, watercolor painting and calligraphy are often recalled in contemporary art, such as the splendid “8-56” show I saw at the Wan Fung Gallery, where lacquer is used in a thee-dimensional way to define the combination of lacquer and sculpture. The artists view the lacquer as a “craft work” and the eight artists who showed sculptures agreed amongst themselves to transform this traditional technique into a modern form by using new
materials and processes. The Wan Fung Gallery is in the famous Dongcheng District, an area of old Beijing charm close to Tian’anmen Square and the Forbidden City. The ancient Chinese architecture of the area makes the gallery a destination spot for art lovers. The gallery provides advice and consultation to international companies about contemporary Chinese art, and introduces and promotes young artists both in China and abroad.

Red Gate Gallery is perhaps one of the famous, if not the most famous gallery in Beijing. It was founded in 1991 by Australian Brian Wallace, who had originally come to China to study Chinese at People’s University in Beijing. The evocative Dongbianmen Watchtower is the gallery’s home, where through traditional Chinese painting, collage, lithographs and oil painting, well known artists such as Qi Zhilong, Qing Qing, Wang Yuping and the partnership of LiuFei and Zhang Hongbo supply social and political commentary on the transformations of Chinese life. It’s an amazing place, and I was taken aback by my response to Qi Zhilong’s “Mao Girl Portrait” called “Good Girl”. Brian is obviously a dealer of impeccable taste, and Red Gate is not to be missed.
The Courtyard, adjacent to the Forbidden City, is a legendary gallery in Beijing, but was sadly closed for renovation during my stay.

Wan Fung Art Gallery
126 Nan Chi Zi Street
Dong Cheng District
Beijing 100006
Tel (86-10) 6523 3320/6523 3319

Red Gate Gallery
Levels 1 and 4, Dongbianmen Watchtower
Chongwenmen District
Beijing 100600
Tel (86-10) 6525 1005/6527 5080

There has never been a more exciting time to visit Shanghai. “The Paris of the Orient” first came of age in the 1930’s, when “five minute tourists” (as American and European visitors were then nicknamed) came through the city to be seen as chic and “with it.” These fast-paced visitors would scarcely recognize the famous “Pudong District” now! Since the early nineties, this district has experienced a growth unparalleled in the world. The number of soaring buildings is staggering. The typical Shanghai resident of Pudong is chic and confident. Jazz clubs and coffeehouses are all over, as they have been since the early thirties. The typical Shanghaiese has a notorious sweet tooth, and pastries are awesome in this city. If you are looking for romance, go no further than the famous Yu Garden and accompanying Huxinting Tea House, the most famous in all of China. The low wooden balconies overlooking lagoons set the stage for

lovers from days of old who met at a midnight rendezvous, usually forbidden. Then go to the Yu Garden bazaar area, where any marvelous item from a string of silvery purple pearls to a wondrously painted fan and all sorts of garments and arts may be found. In fact, Shanghai is the fashion capital of China. The silks are amazing. Bring extra suitcases!

I believe this city invented the concept of fusion, a term we are now thinking may be overused. But East-West appreciation is naturally seen all over Shanghai, and I cannot wait to return.

Some good Shanghai addresses:

Where to stay:
Grand Hyatt, Pudong

Where to eat:
Art 50
Va Bene
Le Garcon Chinois
CoChinChina 1883

Great Coffeehouses:
The Old China Hand Reading Room
H@LA Internet Café
Lan Li Ge Coffee House

Bars and Clubs:
Cotton Club