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May 21, 2010

Call Me Inadvisable

Two things I was told never to do as a writer were 1) begin a piece with, "I am cleaning out Mother's room...," and 2) dateline a piece, in effect, as coming from way late at night in a hotel room, as though I were operating in the tradition of Edward R. Murrow broadcasting during the Blitz. But what is the privilege of blogging for, if not to indulge in thinly disguised travel brags and exacerbate them by being quasi-zonked for lack of sleep and so forgo not only editing but even clear-eyed rereading before hitting the "send" button? That, and playing the this-is-only-a-teaser-for-full-revelations-to-come card.

I'm in Beijing (where graduate art history students say they're attending The University of Peking; go figure). The causus aeronauticus was an invitation to speak at a conference called "What Happened to Art Criticism?--Problems in Chinese and Western Art Criticism." Speaking, as it turns out, is only part of the gig. There are two neighboring spaces in each of which a morning and afternoon session (one session = two speakers) take place. After the afternoon sessions finish, everybody convenes in the bigger venue for a "roundtable" discussion of everything that's transpired during the day. My earphoned duties, like those of all the Chinese and Western "scholars" (my own talk opened with, "I am not a scholar"), include giving my talk, moderating another session and summing it up for one of the "roundtables," and attending everything on offer for the four days of the conference. More than once the sentence "I'm too old for this shit" has popped into my head.

I'm also underpaid--my honorarium works out hourly to a little under $4.73 an hour--but I accepted the gig mostly to get a sniff of Beijing. (I've been to China just once before, to Shanghai a few years ago, and that trip, too, was in a junket bubble.) Tomorrow morning on the last day, a German fellow (who's a theorist at someplace in Vienna with a very long name that includes "kunst") and I are going to play hooky and take the subway to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. He wants to get there promptly at opening time for the Mao mausoleum. Somebody asked him if he's sure Mao is in there. He said, "Whatever's in there, I want to see it."

The grain of sand that festered this pearl of a get-together is, naturally, the contemporary art Chinese market. Though it's down from 2007, when--as I was told in conversation--seven of the top ten living artist price-getters at auction were Chinese, it's still a comparative house afire. There's supposed to be a "village" outside Beijing where six thousand artists live and work, and where they're building their own museum. But the Chinese mega-scene lacks "art criticism" as we know it, and rockets along with a mélange of in-pocket opportunists, wild-eyed DIY'ers, theorists who give the word "arcane" a bad name, and art history professors fretting over whether the ancient tradition of Chinese ink & wash painting can be brought relevantly up to date. Thus, all of us getting together and chewing the tofu about what art criticism should be. Surprise #1: I'm the only one so far who's mentioned the audience, i.e., anybody outside the likes of us conference-goers who's supposed to read the friggin' stuff we write. Surprise #2: T'was a student presenter at the final afternoon speakers' session (the one I happened to moderate) who made the only venture into Marxism. (Whoa! I thought: Did it all go away that fast?) Maybe audience and ol' Karl will come up on the last day, tomorrow, which is an entirely open spit 'n' argue session. If they do in the morning, I'll be truant in Tiananmen and probably miss it.

Oh, one last thing I was told never to do is end a piece with "Stay tuned."

Stay tuned.

May 21, 2010 11:13 AM | | Comments (1)


Why should one collect chinese contemporary art
Historically, great art comes out of periods of change — and certainly China is in one of those periods. There are significant issues for artists to address, and work is being produced that is no longer merely about Mao, but about issues of genuine concern — the largest population movements from rural to urban environments in history (and the resulting challenges and dispossessed), the transformation from pre-industrial to post-industrial society in a period of a few years rather than decades or centuries, the bombardment of the digital age, and the desire to reconnect with a disjointed history and rich cultural tradition.
There has been a lot of money flowing around the Chinese art scene over the past few years that has had a dramatic effect on the art scene and the nature of the art being produced. This volume of funds is going to fluctuate in the coming year or so, which is not a bad thing. It might make artists reflect upon the quality of the work they are producing, and encourage some of the new galleries to formulate more productive strategies to deal with a slackening off in the market. So, hopefully, these recent events will have a positive impact.
Many people in China today are only just becoming aware of the contemporary art produced by local artists
As two years ago, few could name even a single Chinese collector of contemporary art. It was a truism that the Chinese preferred to spend their money acquiring antiquities and classical works. Since then several well-known mainland collectors have emerged on the scene.
Looking at the continued innovations of the older generations of artists, as well as the growing number of young graduates from art academies around the country, I think we can safely say that Chinese contemporary art is far from an imminent demise. It might have been a bit under the weather in recent months given the mood of the international and the domestic art markets (and the media), but being still young, vibrant
Sylvain Levy
Founder of dsl collection
dsl collection represents more than 90 of the most chines contemporary artits. the collection is exhibited on the web at

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