I returned to the United States in May, after nine months in China, and my greatest enjoyment has been to breathe deeply, soak in the beautiful blue skies and fluffy white clouds, and walk around the clean water reservoirs and wooded parks in eastern Massachusetts.
Summer is glorious here. The population density in the United States is much, much less than in China…which makes me realize why we still have blue skies. If we had as many people per square mile as China has to feed, clothe, employ, and shelter in modern, industrialized, urban fashion, our skies would be grey, too.
On a beautiful spring day, I decided to make my way to the National Museum of Art on the edge of Tiananmen Square. I had tried visiting there in February during the Spring Festival holidays, but the line outside the museum had been too long. So I waited for a Friday afternoon in April, and I breezed in with no trouble at all.
Last month I visited Nanjing and spent an afternoon with painter Guan Ce. He was active in the 1985 avant-garde art movement in China and recently exhibited in London’s Saatchi Gallery in a show curated by Gary Xu. Thanks to Gary for making the introduction for me and to Guan Ce for meeting me on short notice.
Guan Ce’s studio was on the 2nd floor of an automobile parts factory not far from the newly developed residential district where he lives and teaches. He showed me some mixed media paintings on paper that he had recently finished….he kept them casually in a large cardboard folder on the floor. He opened the folder for me and then went to get water to make tea.
September marks the end of summer and the beginning of a new season of work. Just in the last two weeks, I’ve attended a slew of art exhibit openings, begun conversations with old friends and new contacts, and noticed plenty of good art.
People do complain about the over-commercialization of the art world. I hear how market demands stunt the development of young talent and how the messy involvement of many different interests—sponsors, investors, curators, paid critics, entrepreneurs, the state, the academy, the gallery, the crowds—muddle artists’ visions. Nothing is simple or clean. There are tons and tons of art to see. And, tucked away between the atrocious items, there’s always something that deserves a second look.
I arrived in Beijing two weeks ago to blue skies. Lots has been happening these few weeks…a Tianjin warehouse full of chemicals exploded into a giant inferno, the Shanghai stock market dove, Usain Bolt won gold at the world championships in the Bird’s Nest, and I’m curiously awaiting the military parade on September 3.