For those who wonder how contemporary art in China “works” (as I have on occasion), the answer is, for those familiar with China, not very surprising–eating. Elaborate dinners are the tool of choice for artists and their enthusiasts, and by enthusiasts I mean principally those who buy and sell art. The hosts of such soirees are in other words vital components in the mechanics of contemporary Chinese art world, and an excellent example of such a host is Karin Chenlin, curator, collector and self-professor “Life Artist.”
We visited Karin’s home/studio in the Caochangdi district of Beijing the night prior to our return to Seattle. The meal went on for hours, as is typical (day break on most occasions), and was as voluminous as it was excellent. Zhong Biao’s paintings (among other works) hung on the walls, some of which had been brought in for the occasion of the dinner itself, and small birds twittered freely about the small bamboo grove situated in the middle of the living room.
Conversation at such events is wine-fueled, philosophical, and almost studiously un-political. But above all, and what is perhaps most striking about this group of successful Chinese artists and art lovers, is the absence of a plan. The “organization of distances,” to quote early twentieth-century poet Bian Zhilin, is an appointment (never early morning), perhaps a plane reservation, typically no more than a day or two away. As I inquire of this group about the more distant future, the like of which one might commit to a calendar, I get blank stares in return. “We live in the moment” 当下. Apparently, that’s not where my question lies.