Wednesday, February 15, 2006


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Lucky that my first evening in town, Hanart Gallery had a show, which not only gave me something to do, it gave me a chance to meet Johnson Chang, who's not only one of the most finger-on-the-pulse guys in the Greater China art market, he's also an alum of my college, class of '73.

On exhibit were two Yunnan artists, Chen Changwei (陳長偉) and Zhao Guanghui(趙光輝) who work with fiber glass and auto paint - they farm the actual work out to some fender repair shops. Zhao made mock-future cars, the most interesting one pictured above.

I spoke to him briefly, said he should make it into a submarine that could be piloted by a child, then mass produce them and use them to invade Taiwan. Despite my insipidly mumbled Chinese, he might have even understood; he's got this clever yokel's face, and he showed crooked teeth at the punch line. Still, it was probably funnier for me.

I asked the other artist, Chen, why he felt like making a big 2-meter bust of Mao. His sculptures all have mottled, rumpled surfaces, a conceptual left turn from the gloss finishes. I heard one wine drinker say he considers it "half digested but not completely digestible," which gives an impression of what he's thinking, but still doesn't really do it for me; ditto for the work. (The whole show was an ironic future thing, not the freshest idea. One piece by Zhao consisted of car parts made to look like bone fossils and half burried in some sand. This was in a corner of the gallery. I thought it should have been installed on some beach Planet of the Apes style. He said he'd never seen the movie.)

So when I asked about Mao, the answer: Because I really like Mao Zedong.

This was good practice, because I'm trying to train myself to not gaff when I encounter people who actually still venerate Mao, though of course when this does happen it is invariably in oddball ways only the Chinese education system can explain.

Mao could really do things. He knew how to clear out everything and replace it with something new. As an individual, if you kill someone or destroy things you are a criminal, but as a leader it's different; it may be for the greater good. And being able to overturn the old culture and replace it is what is needed now. As an artist I can appreciate that. Mao should have been an artist. As a political leader he may have been terrible, but he would have been a great artist. People have said so before. It's hardly a new idea.


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