Weekend Reads #1

So many words in my head to share with you…so little time as PhD land takes over. It’s happening, one day at a time. I thought I’d start doing a weekly, or perhaps fortnightly, round up of articles and words that I’ve come across in relation to societal, governmental, commercial/economic and cultural aspects of China and Chinese contemporary visual culture, obviously touching on it’s peripheries of East Asia/Asia/Asia-Pacific (never quite sure what to call the peripheries) in international contexts, that have caught my attention. I won’t describe all the articles, merely provide a taster (with all relevant links), this time from the legacy of Hans van Dijk, art theft, Ai Weiwei (who I feel will be re-occuring many, many times), language and translation, the “museumificiation” of China, “rice theory”, new transportation links, Xiaolu Guo, architectures of Shanghai, online art sales, Uli Sigg….and more…


Why some English words are controversial in China – BBC News, 30 April 2014
Nowadays, if you eavesdrop on Chinese people’s phone conversations, it is commonplace to hear English phrases popping up here and there, like “Okay”, “Cool” and “Bye bye”. In today’s Chinese publications, English abbreviations and acronyms also pop up frequently without any Chinese translations: GDP, WTO, Wifi, CEO, MBA, VIP and the air pollutant term PM2.5 are among the most popular. This phenomenon, termed “zero translation”, has sparked a fierce debate, with the Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper People’s Daily the latest to join the fray.

Traditionalism as a way of life: The sense of home in a Shanghai Alleyway – Harvard Asia Quarterly, Autumn 2013
Taking inspiration from major cities such as New York and Tokyo, the government of Shanghai has sought to convey a mixture of modernity and high culture through a blend of high-rise construction and historic preservation. City brand- ing is a major part of Shanghai’s urban development program. Apart from the building of multiple modern skyscrapers, the local government sees protection of distinctive “architectural artifacts” as essential to the branding of a city with global ambitions. The drive behind preservation, however, raises lin- gering questions regarding the residents currently living in these historic “monuments.” Through ethnography, I show the lives of three different groups of residents whose sense of home is defined by completely different factors. “Traditional- ism as a way of life” can be defined as practices that can only be understood within a highly contemporary framework, in which enacting or embodying “the past” has value in contemporary Chinese economic and globalized structures.

‘Rice theory’ explains north-south China cultural differences, study shows – PHYS.ORG, 8 May 2014
A new cultural psychology study has found that psychological differences between the people of northern and southern China mirror the differences between community-oriented East Asia and the more individualistic Western world – and the differences seem to have come about because southern China has grown rice for thousands of years, whereas the north has grown wheat.


China may build an undersea train to America – The Washington Post, 9 May 2014
China is planning to build a train line that would, in theory, connect Beijing to the United States. According to a report in the Beijing Times, citing an expert at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, Chinese officials are considering a route that would start in the country’s northeast, thread through eastern Siberia and cross the Bering Strait via a 125-mile long underwater tunnel into Alaska.

From Fakes to Fine Art: Taobao Leaps Into the Auction Scene – China Real Time/Wall Street Journal, 29 May 2014
Last week Chinese buyers scooped up a Picasso painting and a sculpture by Salvador Dali. But the transactions didn’t take place at an auction house or at Art Basel, they were all done through Taobao, China’s largest e-commerce marketplace. The sales—which launched with an initial bidding price of just 1 yuan (16 U.S. cents)—are part of an art auction service that Taobao recently started in China on its Paimai auction site. According to the works’ introduction pages, Beverly Hills-based Galerie Michael provided both the Picasso, which sold for 1.15 million yuan ($180,000), and the Dali sculpture, which sold for 357,001 yuan. The gallery confirmed that Chinese customers purchased the works and put them up for auction on the site, but said it had no direct involvement in the auction. Fine art isn’t the first high-end industry to tap Alibaba-run Taobao to reach the massive Chinese consumer base—users can buy Gucci bags or Rolex watches on the site’s TMall—but it represents a new niche for a marketplace that is better known for cheap clothes and electronics.

Building the dream – The Economist, 19 April 2014
By 2030 Chinese cities will be home to about 1 billion people. Getting urban China to work properly is vital to the country’s economic and political future, says James Miles. Some historians believe that Marco Polo never went to China. But even if the 13th-century Venetian merchant did not lay eyes on the coastal city of Hangzhou himself, he certainly reflected the awe it inspired in other foreign traders when he described it as “beyond dispute the finest and the noblest in the world”. And, “incredible as it may seem”, he wrote, Hangzhou (which he called Kinsay) was but one of more than 1,200 “great and wealthy cities” in southern China. “Everything appertaining to this city is on so vast a scale…that it is not easy even to put it in writing.”

China: On top of the world – Financial Times, 2 May 2014
The country is about to eclipse the US as the largest economy but dominance is still far off. In two essays, the FT’s chief economics commentator and Asia editor examine the significance of China’s imminent emergence as the world’s biggest economy.

Hong Kong grows ever closer to China’s mega-city – The Art Newspaper, 17 May 2014
The mainland’s manufacturing heartland, the Pearl River Delta, will be increasingly influential. In a couple of years, when the Hong Kong portion of the controversial and long-awaited high-speed XRL train line becomes operational, it should take just 48 minutes to travel from the former British colony to Guangzhou. The capital of Guangdong province is one of the stops on the way to the route’s final destination, Beijing. For now, the quickest direct rail trip between Hong Kong and Guangzhou, the two largest cities in southern China, takes nearly two hours. The XRL project, which is expected to cost HK$70bn ($9bn), is a centrepiece of an ambitious political policy to accelerate economic integration within the Pearl River Delta, one of China’s most dynamic regions.

WEST KOWLOON CULTURAL DISTRICT photocredit: punxkid.egloos


From the Issue of Art to the Issue of Position: The Echoes of Socialist Realism, Part I – e-flux, May 2014
Socialist Realism was introduced into China in the first half of the twentieth century, and gradually became the main, overarching creative method of the revolutionary era, leading art, literature, theater, and other creative fields for decades. It is often seen as a highly politicized creative model that is the product of socialist, and particularly communist, political views. Over the past three decades, contemporary artists and art discussions often attempted to cast it off as an external form, positioning themselves in opposition to it in order to declare their independent, rebellious, free, and contemporary stance in their artistic practice. Many artists and critics have also engaged in a conscious rethinking of their socialist heritage within their artistic practice, either distancing themselves or avoiding it altogether, unwilling to admit Socialism’s direct connection to contemporary times as an artistic tradition or ideology. Such an independent, rebellious, and free stance appears to be the foundation of the contemporary legitimacy of art. At the same time, we have not engaged in adequate observation and discussion of its internal logic. The current ambiguity of articulation concerning contemporary issues in art criticism in China is largely due to the delay in carrying out deep research and analysis of this historical process. In this paper, we propose to address the subject of socialist realism as a fundamental issue, exploring the historic practice and complexity of its formation.

The credibility Gap – The Art Newspaper, 14 May 2014
There’s a lot of space to show new art in China today, but experienced curators to fill it and critics to assess their work are in short supply.

Cultural Revolution: Two private museums mark a new departure for the country – The Economist, 24 May 2014
Many Chinese museums open with a fine first exhibition, but are soon as empty as swimming pools without water. Museum founders are good at what they do, so good that for the past few years a new museum has opened every day in China. But keeping them going, they say, is more difficult. Putting together collections, training curatorial staff and planning inspired exhibition programmes all but defeats them. That historic weakness is about to be challenged by two new private museums of contemporary art in Shanghai. One is the Long Museum, the brainchild of Liu Yiqian and Wang Wei, a billionaire couple who develop property and buy art. The other one is the Yuz Museum, inaugurated on May 18th by a wealthy Indonesian-Chinese businessman, Budi Tek.

A bright future for China’s art market: Interview with Hadrien de Montferrand – AMA, 29 May 2014
Seven years ago — having gained extensive experience of the art market throughout his career — Hadrien de Montferrand, former Marketing Director with Artcurial, moved to China. In 2009 he founded his first gallery in the city, the first in China to present contemporary artworks on paper. Following on from the success of this first venture, 2013 saw de Montferrand open a new gallery dedicated to the promotion of emerging artists in Hangzhou. With a wealth of experience of both the global and Chinese art markets, de Montferrand was able to give an insight into the development of the market when AMA met with him at Art Basel Hong Kong.

We Love Collecting… Contemporary Chinese Art – Artnet News, 1 May 2014
Recent reports about the market for Chinese contemporary art have made some collectors understandably wary, including instances of forgery, fraud, and even money laundering. However, there are many aspects of this market that are reliably transparent, representing an exciting arena both for investment and for education.

Art? An interview with Ai Weiwei – Aeon Magazine, 2 May 2014
Ai Weiwei is back in production with his Fake studio and his team of assistants. What does art mean now to the dissident?

Chinese extreme performance artist suffers as his works get personal – The Japan Times, 9 May 2014
Having one of his own ribs cut out to turn into a necklace, enduring a slashing from neck to thigh — He Yunchang will do anything for art as long as it does not kill him. The extreme performance artist’s head is almost entirely shaved, and his face flecked with faint scars from his shows. His blood-drenched, often naked masochistic displays are intended to demonstrate that some things are worth making sacrifices for.

He Yunchang

Ai Weiwei Erased From Show in Shanghai – The New York Times, 29 April 2014
The exhibition, “15 Years Chinese Contemporary Art Award,” chronicles the history of the art prize that Mr. Sigg, a former Swiss ambassador to China, created in 1998 to help foster the Chinese art scene. It includes about 50 works from more than a dozen award winners.

China’s aggressive museum growth brings architectural wonders – CNN, 30 April 2014
In 2010, the National People’s Congress outlined a five-year plan that, among other things, aimed to see China’s high-speed railway network reach 45,000 km and its number of museums increase to 3,500 nationwide. The idea that culture can be laid like train tracks may be moot, but there’s no question that this cultural infrastructure is being rapidly developed. By the end of 2013, two years before deadline, China already exceeded its goal, tallying a total of 4,000 museums.

Corporate Aesthetics: Shanzhai Biennial – Art in America, 30 April 2014
Three “co-presidents” – stylist Avena Gallagher along with artists Babak Radboy and Cyril Duval—are behind the collaborative “meta-brand.” Shanzhai Biennial does to the contemporary art biennial as shanzhai—a Chinese mode of knockoff production and an open-source countercultural ethos—does to iPhones, designer handbags, popular singers and Chinese state television. Shanzhaihas been trending in the Western media for a few years now as part of what Radboy calls a “narrative of [Chinese] cultural failure” (see last year’s shanzhai lion), but its agility in parasitizing its mega-brand hosts has more recently impressed and influenced global “maker” culture. With a ruthless impiety, Shanzhai Biennial borrows the cosmopolitan cachet of the international art event and snips its vestigial connection to art objects.

CT Loo: champion of Chinese art … or villain? – FT, 25 April 2014
He was the son of a peasant opium addict who became the 20th century’s pre-eminent dealer in ancient Chinese art. But to some, he was a criminal who ransacked his country’s patrimony.

In the footsteps of Big Hans – The Art Newspaper, 14 May 2014
The title of the exhibition, “5,000 Names”, is born of a mystery. It alludes to the unfinished project of Hans van Dijk, a Dutchman who arrived at Nanjing University in 1986 to study Chinese, and went on to become a key figure in contemporary art in China until his death in 2002. His legacy is a rich archive of photographs, letters, books, catalogues and magazines recording his life and work within an emergent art scene. He also devoted his energies to compiling an index of Chinese artists born between 1880 and 1980—more than 5,000 of them.

‘The Man who knew everyone in the contemporary Chinese art world’ – The Art Newspaper, 14 May 2014
The title of the exhibition, “5,000 Names”, is born of a mystery. It alludes to the unfinished project of Hans van Dijk, a Dutchman who arrived at Nanjing University in 1986 to study Chinese, and went on to become a key figure in contemporary art in China until his death in 2002. His legacy is a rich archive of photographs, letters, books, catalogues and magazines recording his life and work within an emergent art scene. He also devoted his energies to compiling an index of Chinese artists born between 1880 and 1980—more than 5,000 of them.

Artists finding inspiration in China’s bad air – LA Times, 7 May 2014
Photographer Wu Di’s studio, tucked away in a dusty corner of northeast Beijing, isn’t easy to find, but the mannequin out front wearing a military-style gas mask and a Roots sweatshirt is a sign you’re in the right place. Inside, Wu showed off some of his work, like the stylized shot of mannequins in brand-name clothes posed near a swirling cesspool of discharge from garment factories. Recently, he photographed a child wearing 445 paper face masks stretching out like an elephant’s trunk.

China reshapes the art map – Financial Times, 9 May 2014
On a lush riverbank, alive with nocturnal creatures, a small boy sleepwalks, then floats on the water. In this 10-minute video loop, the young film-maker Yi Lian explores the links between water, darkness and the unconscious. Elsewhere, exhortations to “study well” deck the walls of a vast classroom, where students fall asleep over their books: the multifaceted artist Wang Qingsong has placed himself centre stage in a wry photographic comment on the “contradictory and crazy” epic that is life in China today. With their contrasting “inward” and “outward” focuses, these two works hint at the diversity of Chinese contemporary art currently on show at Sydney’s White Rabbit Gallery.

To Break Even in Seattle Art, Your Paintings Have to Be Made in China – The Stranger, 7 May 2014
It was record-hot last Thursday in Seattle. Sweaty anticapitalist marches for International Workers’ Day clogged big streets. Police guarded the defenseless windows of Niketown. And superheroes in full-body costumes skirmished with cop-loathing anarchists. At City Hall, the mayor summoned reporters and TV cameras to hear his plan to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2021. A few blocks north in a public plaza, Kshama Sawant, Seattle’s socialist city council member, rallied the fight for a faster and surer path to $15. I felt useless and disconnected going to art walk in Pioneer Square that night—until I got to a show by William Powhida, who transformed Platform Gallery into an experimental showroom for the products of low-wage Chinese art labor. The paintings at the show are replicas of Powhida’s own drawings of lists and letters, neurotic rants about the heatedly capitalist contemporary art world. He’s not a Seattle artist, but Powhida wove his work right into what matters most in Seattle now. No other art that night came close to rhyming with the rest of the day’s tortured deliberations on exploitation.

Lunch with the FT: Guo Jian – Financial Times, 30 May 2014
Now an artist creating work out of minced pork and litter, the former soldier and Tiananmen Square protester recalls the horrors of that night in Beijing 25 years ago. By Tom Mitchell.

Xiaolu Guo: ‘Growing up in a communist society with limited freedom, you’re a spiky, angry rat’ – The Guardian, 30 May 2014
The Chinese film-maker and fiction writer on Tiananmen Square, political martyrdom and learning to live in Hackney.

The collector with a cool head for the art of China – The Art Newspaper, 14 May 2014
In a new film, Uli Sigg reveals that he didn’t necessarily like some of the contemporary art he bought. A new film about Uli Sigg pulls no punches about the Swiss collector’s detachment from much of the vast collection of Modern and contemporary Chinese art he donated and sold in 2012 to Hong Kong’s M+ museum.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s