Zhang Wei, 1976

Zhang Wei, 1976

The thing about origins, is that we have to keep going back to them to make them them. Ala:

15 May 2013 – 1 September 2013
Asia Society
This exhibit is strikingly similar to the Blooming in the Shadows event held at the China Institute in September 2011, itself a reprisal of a similar event held in Beijing the previous year. Granted, a common denominator of these has been the poet-artist Yan Li, and curators Shen Kuiyi and Julia Andrews have been involved. That said, a definite nostalgic trend can be observed of late with respect to contemporary Chinese art. Less engaged with the ways of the future, most seem inclined to the where did we come from and how did we get here type of questions. Even, I would say, Zhang Xiaotiao’s  “Sakya,” reported on by the New York Times in typically unnostalgic terms, is a turning back to Chinese cultural roots, or at least the branch of those roots which springs forth from Tibet. These gestures are more than jabs in present give-and-take between authoritarian governmental forces and individual artists; they are old wine in new bottles–and everyone knows wine gets better with age.
Venice Biennale, 2013
Zhang Xiaotiao
Zhang Xiaotiao

Zhang Xiaotiao


Ai Weiwei, Time Magazine, sculpture, detention, and an imaginative exercise of my own

Ai Weiwei is back in the public eye, now more ponderous than ever. Namely, he’s provided sculptural view of his 80+ day detention in 2011, and they are on display at Venice Biennale under the title SACRED.

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Which brings me to an imaginative exercise, brought about only slightly facetiously by voluminous and similarly placed facial hair. What of our own instances of unlawful detention? Would a mock-ups, beard and all, of Abdullah al-Kidd being interrogated by CIA officials do well as art in Venice? (al-Kidd was detained for 16 days in 2003 for attempting to fly to Saudi Arabia.) If the art was well done, I suppose, it might be picked up by some adventurous curator for global art events like the one now in Italy. But, would NPR, the New York Times, and the Guardian cover them as they have Ai Weiwei’s exhibit?  Obviously not. Part of the reason for that is of course that al-Kidd is not himself an artist, and therefore not eligible for artist as hero against ‘The Man’ narratives that we so readily go in for. The other reason is that al-Kidd was presumed to be a terrorist, and that just does not seem a topic worthy of reporting. Which of these two reasons is more important here I can’t say. Maybe they come out about equal.

Lee Gelernt, Abdullah al-Kidd

Which brings me to Time Magazine. Last week featured a cover by Ai himself, and a report on contemporary China by Hannah Beech.



The consequences of China reclaiming its “rightful place” are far-reaching—a world driven by a Chinese consumer class, rather than an American one, would be already a very different place. But Beech charts the “uncomfortable realities” of China’s emergence as a superpower: its toxic environment, its awkward relations with wary neighbors, the iron-bound determination of Xi’s Communist Party to keep a stranglehold on power despite the growing frustrations of its restive population. China views itself as the Middle Kingdom, imbued with the mandate of 5,000 years of glorious history. But the rest of the world still sees a “foreign policy laggard,” preoccupied more by its insecurities than its strengths.

Read more:

Ai’s image thereby accompanies a narrative of China’s rise coupled with the important exercise of putting China in its place. This concerted effort requires not only all the major media to partake, but just as importantly, a legitimate, dependable, valiant, brave, native, figure like Ai Weiwei to drive it all home. It must issue from numerous places at once (Time, London, Venice, etc), and fully interweave text and image, politics and culture, without ever disrupting the dominant view: China is rising, BUT…

Zhong Biao is in Venice

Recently received the following announcement from Zhong Biao:




The curator is Xu Gang 徐钢. He’s a new figure in the Zhong Biao pantheon, near as I can tell, and professor of Chinese literature at University of Illinois.The principal sponsors are Today 今日 and Winshare 文轩美术馆 galleries, the latter of which being an appendage of Xinhua media group.

The concept is a reprisal of previous work by Zhong, who has not been inclined to change his approach much since I’ve begun following him in 2005. His artistic ideas, in other words, are repetitive, if also impressive, a curious blend. In this case, an even more simple dichotomy is at work than the one’s he’s used before, namely Reality/Fantasy, or more properly, the “unstable relationship between the two.”  A cosmic element is also there, as the relationship is explored (exhibited) within “the primordial mass of the universe” 在混沌宇宙, and I wonder how the cosmic plays, through painting, other installation and video screens, within a Venetian church. Exhibiting Zhong’s work in refurbished urban warehouses, or sparkling new annexes of modern museums (the last two shows I’ve seen) seem to offer more congruency than 17th century Italian architecture. But this is difficult to say from afar. Sure do wish I was there….