Tag Archives: contemporary art

China is Big

worldmapGangnam style.

My mom and I have already exchanged gifts this year and we gave each other the same thing – a world map. She’d mentioned that she’d seen a large, wall, Rand McNally World Map at Office Depot that she’d like to have, and so I bought it for her when we were making copies there recently. She asked if I wanted one and I said, “No, thanks,” since I already had one. When we went back to her house I installed it above her computer and that’s when I changed my mind. I loved this map! It was huge and colorful! The countries’ boundaries were easy to distinguish and cities were legible. I liked it much better than the one I had, which was a discard from my middle school library. The following week she went back and got me one. (Thanks, Mom!) It is so large that it won’t fit across the stretch of wall where I want it without covering up the light switch, so I have to curl up the bottom left corner of the Pacific Ocean. I can lie in bed and see the world from my pillow. In doing so, I’ve noticed that China is roughly the same size as the entire USA. Brazil and Australia aren’t far behind, and it is odd that all four of these land mass areas are colored green on my new map.

In my never-ending job search, my hard copy file grows fatter every day…just like me during the holidays. Of the countries I’m interested in, China, so far, has the most jobs available so I’ve started reading a few books about China to educate myself. I’ve just completed reading J. Maarten Troost’s Lost on Planet China. Troost doesn’t paint a very pretty picture of China. His journey across this vast country took him to all major cities as well as to the Gobi Desert and the hinterlands of Tibet. To quote from the book’s sleeve, “ . . . the book also delivers a telling look at a vast and complex country on the brink of transformation that will soon shape the way we all work, live and think.” This is a powerful statement. We all need to be learning about China.

From what I’ve read, I think it’s one of those places that you’ve got to see it to believe it. There’s simply no way to comprehend China unless you experience it firsthand, in my opinion. Here’s a few quick facts, comparing China to the USA:

Chinese civilization is more than 5,000 years old. The Constitution of the USA went into effect in 1789, making the current republic 223 years old.

In 2011, the population of China was 1,344,130,000. The population of the USA was 311,591,917.

Shanghai is the largest city in China, and according to Global Times,  its population soared to over 23 million at the end of 2011. New York City is the largest city in the USA and the 2011 Census Bureau estimated its population at 8,175,133.

My favorite way to learn about a place and its history is through its visual artists. There are many Chinese, contemporary artists that I admire, but none more so than Ai Weiwei. Although he served as an artistic consultant on the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics, he is also a political activist. He has been openly critical of the Chinese government in regards to democracy and human rights. Through art and social media, Ai expresses himself and, as his Never Sorry film website reads, he blurs the boundaries of art and politics. Chinese authorities have shut down his blog, beat him up, bulldozed his studio and held him in secret detention.

Gangnam Style is a music video by a South Korean rapper known as PSY. His video has more than 959 million views on YouTube and many people have remixed their own versions.  On October 24, 2012, Ai Weiwei uploaded his own version of Gangnam Style. This attempt to criticize the Chinese government was quickly blocked by national authorities. In his version of the video, Ai is wearing handcuffs and calls his versions “Grass-Mud Horse Style,” a reference to a Chinese Internet Meme that employs a pun on an obscene phrase to mock government censorship of the Web.

This New York Times article, by Robert Mackey, gives all the details, including a video interview with Weiwei, in his studio, with Evan Osnos of The New Yorker.

This week I challenge you to pick a country, big or small, find a contemporary artist from there and learn about it. Art always reflects culture.

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A Global Commodity

Art and pork bellies.

One hundred thirty eight years ago, in 1874, a group of artists gathered in Paris to show their artwork to the public inside a former photographer’s studio. Many of these artists had been rejected by the Salon, the royally sanctioned French institution that determined if artwork was acceptable, satisfactory and superior. The influence of the Salon was absolutely undisputed, and for an artist to exhibit in their space meant their artwork was excellent. The artist was almost fully guaranteed to be successful. After being rejected from showing their work at the Salon, several artists set up their own exhibition and the public ridicule commenced. Not only were their paintings thought of as crudely rendered, they had disregarded the element of line and changed the color of objects and landscapes from the appearance of reality! (Can you imagine!!) According to the historical critique, The Exhibition of the Revoltes, written by Emile Cardon for La Presse, the artists’ “scribblings” both sickened and disgusted. One can imagine how horrible these paintings must have looked to have received such a disparaging description. How embarrassing, right? Didn’t these artists know how horrible their work was? Why on earth would they go to such measures to invite criticism? Often, contemporary art is described in this way. You may be surprised to learn that these rebellious, seemingly untalented artists, who refused to accept the jurors’ assessment, are none other than some of the 21st century’s most beloved artists:  Monet, Degas, Cezanne and Renoir.

Throughout history, it is not uncommon for the public to disregard the cutting edge artwork being produced and exhibited in the current culture. We’ve all known incidences in which people say, when walking through a gallery or museum, “My kindergartner could have done that.”

But the fact is . . . they didn’t.

In The History of Impressionism, author, John Rewald says, “It requires tremendous courage and limitless faith to overcome such adversities…” He goes on to say, “How hard it must be for the timid, and even for the self-confident and ambitious, for the poor, and even for the rich, to stand up under constant derision without being paralyzed in their creative efforts!”

Over the past month, I’ve attended three contemporary art fairs. The first one was the Dallas Art Fair, where I live, and the other two were in New York: Pulse and Frieze, which are both international in scope. Granted, some of what I saw bewildered even me, a professional, contemporary artist who has been making and exhibiting art for 30 years. Yet, I was truly inspired by most pieces I saw. As a working artist, I know the dedication and courage it takes to both produce the work and then to put it on public display. My skin has become thick enough that negative commentary about my work bounces off, for the most part.

The courage that is necessary to produce and exhibit a piece of artwork is not dissimilar to the courage needed to break out of the routine life many of us find ourselves in. When people become brave enough to mold their lives in an unconventional way, whether through travel or career, many people are quick to condemn. Life is short. Do what your heart is leading you to do. Be brave. Do it. There may be many who condemn, but surprisingly, you are sure to find a community that will support you. And once you become brave enough to start forming words to verbally express what you are considering, you will begin to hear the applause from your fans and well-wishers.

Build it and they will come.

In this excellent episode on 60 Minutes, Morley Safer describes the current, contemporary art scene, as it relates to international art fairs and the global economy.  It is well worth your time to watch.

It is encouraging to hear that when our world economy suffers, contemporary art is thriving. Please watch and tell me how you’ve been brave!

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