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    Art in China in the Days of Corona

    3 תגובות   יום שישי , 17/4/20, 19:59

     

    P-L-A-G-U-E: A Magical Start to the Year of the Mouse 2020

    An evil spirit, a medieval epidemic wafted through the New Year's air in China. A bad and scary dragon threatened the good and protective Chinese dragon. The holiday "Spring Festival" – the Chinese New Year – which was supposed to last a week, went on for over a month. Immediately after Chinese New Year's Eve on January 24, everything froze. Like in the game "Statues". Artists stayed where they had traveled to celebrate with parents or relatives, open exhibitions remained spread out in museum and gallery spaces closed to visitors, and art fairs and festivals of art were canceled. A closure - a type of curfew - was imposed on all localities and cities. People found themselves imprisoned, trapped in their homes, enclosed in residential complexes, blocked in their neighborhoods, prohibited from exiting the boundaries of urban or rural settlement, and of course barred from all interstate transit. Checkpoint Inside Checkpoint Inside Checkpoint…

    A painting depicting a walled city isolated by cloudy skies painted by China's most senior painter Zhang Xiaogang.

     

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    Zhang Xiaogang / Wuhan 'Isolation' Art Project

    This may become an iconic image to mark the cost, the revelations of evil, the loneliness and the heroism of the city of Wuhan in the Corona epidemic. Wuhan the city where the epidemic began, is not rejected by the artist but instead stands at the center of inclusiveness and empathy. A mask is covering the eyes precisely because a good painter sees both far way and deep inside. The artist said: "Cruelty and human evil are a threatening virus that leaves its mark on a chair, a room or a light bulb.” https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/HboRDz_L9d19Ssn39uuIPA

     

    Artistic expression of this new reality, is found in the troubled, emotional web-post by the artist Wang Qingsong from Beijing who attempted to leave the art complex in Caochangdi where he lives, so as to visit three nearby art areas: Song Village (Song Zhuan), Qiaozi Art District, and the 798 Art Area. His encounter with heavy, hermetically sealed barriers in the form of walls built from heavy colored containers led him to feel the emotional frustration of being imprisoned in the photographs of a fine master photographer.

     

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    On the outskirts of Beijing. "And the city is sealed, there's no going out and no coming in” (A. Camus)

    Wang Qingsong / “Are You Okay with the Beijing Art District During the Epidemic?” February 2020

    The 798 Art Area was also blocked. Near the barrier in the lower photo is the blue sky, which is actually the work of the artist Li Qiwei.

     

     

    Going but not coming. Blocking walls. The real in its embodiment. Not as if or not like. This is how seriousness looks. Using the terms of Slavoj Žižek's in his book Welcome to the Desert of the Real (2002), can this global event be seen as a clash of cultures in the confines of the new global space?

     

    "Impersonating Myself/Becoming Myself - Our Exhibition on Hold

    The group exhibition, which I curated in China together with Zhang Fang, named “Impersonating Myself / Becoming Myself” was also frozen in its preparation. Twenty photography and video artists are participating in the exhibition, ten Chinese and ten Israeli. The exhibition was to be opened at the Guangzhou MOCA Museum on March 7, the eve of International Women's Day, and so an appropriate date. As of today [10.3] no alternative date has been set, and the museum is still closed. Israeli artists: Raida ADON, Sharon GLAZBERG, Keren GUELLER, Michal HEIMAN, Alex KURBATOV, Vered NISIM, Hadas SATT, Tal Shochat, Noa YAFE and Noa YEKUTIELI. Chinese artists: CUI Xiuwen, FANG Lu, HU Haibo, HU Jiayi, LIU Silin, LIU Qinmin, WU Dandan, WEN Hui, XING Danwen, XU Jingyu.

     

    Broken Voices

    Museum managers and gallery owners speak about major damage, critical to their survival, of galleries, especially for private institutions that are not supported by the administration. This is what Mathieu, Bank Gallery owner in Shanghai wrote to me on WeChat: "We are basically in a state of uncertainty and limbo. All our February and March events have been cancelled […] We haven't had any income but are just spending, spending... We have launched an online exhibition as a way to stay present... but it'll be hard to sell art right now”.

    Mathieu's desperate voice is the voice of a past that may indeed be past. What was, may never be again.

    Because cultural and artistic life was diverted from halls and buildings, it became very active and energetic on the internet, on websites and on social networks. And of course, in the inner rooms of the artists who talk more with themselves and also with other artists.

     

    Art on the Internet

    Six art displays of great interest are among those welling up on the web:

     

    The first art display is the establishment of dozens of online digital art galleries and art centers on a free platform [free until the end of 2020] provided by Beijing Zaiyiyun Technology Services Co., Ltd. The platform allows you to view online exhibitions as well as transact online sales. Of these, most important is the China Academy of Fine Art - CAFA - which shows the political approval of this new display form. The platform also promotes sales of artwork at a very low commission (currently 0.2% instead of 0.6%). See links below*.

     

    The second art display is embodied in a series of works and exhibitions by artists who self-advertise on major social networks such as WeChat or Weibo. WeChat functions like FaceBook. This is a veritable waterfall of artworks on social networks. For example: a series of drawings “Logs Against the Plague", which is based on documentary photography shown on television, illustrates a dynamic state of struggle and the coming-together of people as white soldiers on Hubei's battlefields and on the front lines of Wuhan.

     

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    Xu Huiquan from “Logs Against the Plague”. The artist calls his works "screen drawings".

    Xu, an artist and director of the Jiangsu Museum, staged a series of exhibitions on WeChat in late January.

     

     

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    Ready-Made Hit. This work was offered for auction, bearing the name “Wuhan”. By March 3, 167 additional works donated by various artists were also sold and the sales, which totaled fifteen million yuan, were donated to aid in the fight. A very small painting by painter Zhang Xiaogang sold for one million eight hundred thousand yuan. Sales House: China Guardian Auctions - www.guardian.com

     

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     Weng Fen / Tomorrow Will Be Better, 2020

    Still from video

     

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    Weng Fen / My Object of the Year, 2020

    During the month he was locked-down in his home on Hainan Island, artist Weng Fen, with the help of his daughter, created the work "My Object of the Year". He designed over fifty white paper golf balls, wrote a word on each of them and hit these ‘balls’ with a golf club on the roof of his house [see photo from his video]. He wrote to me in WeChat: “I stayed at home for more than a month and didn't go out. I was already in a complex mood and my body became more and more fidgety. Exercise is the way I decompress and reflect. I usually run and play golf after work. At home, I can only use paper to make a ball instead of [a] golf [ball] to swing on the rooftop to exercise and trot on the rooftop. As long as we keep fit, we can think and criticize the reality”.

    The words he wrote on his paper golf balls included: Shock, Pay Attention, Masses, Protests, No Masks, Wuhan, New Ways, Nonsense, World Economic Crisis, Black Lists, Prevention and Control, Nature, Revision, Better, Negotiation, Open Non-stop, Golden Week, and more. A brave artist, not giving up. I wrote to him that I suppose he would next make porcelain golf balls. He replied: "Ceramic golf is a great idea! Ha-ha."

     

    The third art display I call Meme, thousands of Memes

    “Meme is any non-material cultural characteristic that replicates and spreads from brain to brain. For example, fashion is not material, but it is transmitted from brain to brain through adoption and imitation and thus spreads among the population. Similarly, religion replicates from the thinker (for example Muhammad or Jesus) to his first believers and beyond "[https://www.morfix.co.il/en/meme]. This is just what a virus does.

    Memes in the days of corona are visual images that people think and create and transmit on social networks, especially in WeChat– (Weixing In Chinese) spreads as a wildfire. Examples follow:

     

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    The leader Mao is revealed again. They don't dare to appropriate and use this super-leader's photo [yes, still today], and therefore appropriate a well-known painting called "Chairman Mao on the Way to Anyuan" by painter Liu Chunhua [Oil on canvas] from 1967 - the Red Era. The original painting can be seen at China National Museum, the world's largest museum, which stretches along the eastern side of Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Free entry.

     

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    A photograph of a solid bronze sculpture at Beijing 798 Art Complex, with an added face mask. Sculptor: Artist Wang Guangyi

    The uniqueness of the sculpture: an avant-garde expression in New China that began in the 1990s. The muscular worker is replaced by a powerful artist holding a brush used by painters and calligraphers instead of an iconic hammer. Artist Wang Guangyi combined in his sculpture the ancient tradition of Chinese painting [the brush] and Communist-Maoist propaganda. The mask the man now

    wears indicates difficulty but does not diminish his strength. “JIAYOU WUHAN!” - “Cheer-up Wuhan!”

     

     

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    Not coming down from the art stage. "Happy New Year" blessing (guònián hǎo in Chinese) from Mona Lisa wearing a mask.

     

     

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    Think of Darth Vader: A superhero and an arch-villain from Star Wars. At first good, then bad and finally good. A hint of the what is to come?

     

    Some images feature well-known works of art that express human suffering and evil, such as the "The Raft of the Medusa" [an oil painting by French painter Géricault from 1818, on survivors left to their destiny]. Other images stress human resilience often symbolized by a rock in a stormy sea or by comic book heroes wearing masks. Yet other works suggest hope, for example, a photograph of blue skies in a sea of dark clouds. https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202003/04/WS5e5f7b10a31012821727c528_4.html

     

    Fourth Art Display - Designs of Practical Value

    Designers illustrate signs and rules of conduct: how to care for masks, maintain personal hygiene. They also make posters expressing empathy for Wuhan city - a well-known Chinese communist practice.

     

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    This show combines authentic and instant art with illustrations and animated pictures of family life: imprisoned in apartments, "vacationers" by windows, isolated in rooms. The illustrations express feelings of anxiety, boredom, pain, anger, grief, helplessness, loneliness, depression and the like. A leading website in this field is that of the CAFA Student Association. The talented students, who are at the most prestigious art academy in China, give their work a didactic and pleasing touch. They illustrate medical workers as heroes, aim to honor older adults in the family, and present life now as a long night waiting for dawn and the warmth of spring. Their work includes the longing to see many, many, many people!  It is recruited art: "Let's act and participate in fighting the plague", but it is also cautious. As they write so aptly on the student art website: "Paint well, just paint. When the summer comes, we will present the best exhibition!"

     

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    “Epidemics [...] when they land on your head you find it hard to believe in them”. (Albert Camus)

     

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    Fifth Art Display: Photo Art in the “Age of Its Technological Reproducibility” in Mass Society

    With no sign of a cure or vaccine in sight, it seems that these days the most available therapeutic treatment is smartphone photography, the distribution of these images on social networks and the resulting approval through “Likes” and fame (instead of "aura"). Crowds invest in photography, photographing scenes that have not been seen so far, looking for interesting photographic angles, unique lighting and effective compositions.

    In the end, there will be those who cynically say that this it is the real “blow” of the plague.

    Here are some examples:

     

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    A makeshift hospital in Wuhan. The visual messages are that a large number of patients are expected; that a spacious and respectful place is dedicated to their care; and that despite the disaster, order and control are in our hands. Just don't lose face!

     

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    Many images have spread virally on social networks. This is one of the most prominent. Workers in a hospital in Wuhan are asleep, not leaving their seats. To end of their strength and beyond. Light and shadow, black, gray and white, cover-up and disclosure. In control and in weakness. Heartbreaking.

     

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    The lock-down is underway. A blocked and locked residential complex. Someone takes care of the equipment that is needed for the occupants. This boxed equipment itself creates another hurdle and barrier. Equality and order are maintained.

     

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    Take care of people, but also invest in pets. Only we too are left.

    Plastic, the enemy of the earth, makes a hysterical comeback as civilization believes it is in danger of extinction. And the green? Very green. The grass is soothing but desolate, and the bush in the background hides a vague being. What does the dog owner know? Will we infect? Have we already been infected? When will it end? When will they find a vaccine and drug? What does this plague have to do with me?!

     

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    Thousands of photos and videos show ghost towns, empty roads, barren residential complexes, desolate parks, deserted commercial complexes, hollow trains…  It is like Judgment Day, Doomsday. In hustling and bustling China, these photos have a terrific impact. Who would have believed?! There are no films that can compete with this massive drama.

     

    Sixth Art Display: Art and Science - Scientists Charts and Graphs

    Alongside photography, paintings, illustrations, video clips and plastic art from artists, my eyes catch beautiful, smart visuals of graphs and scientific charts. Perfect graphic marketing of the plague. For example, my spouse, Professor Michael Levitt, is analyzing COVID-19 data. Analyzing huge amounts of data with mathematical tools since the end of January. The scientific world is also revealed in lines, colors, movement, order and associations that create meaning.

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    Michael Levitt, Figure 1, March 5, 2020

    Michael Levitt, Structural Biology, Stanford University School of Medicine

    Michael is not Chinese but his scientific graphs plotting the demise of Coronavirus show deep concern for the people in China and all over the world

     

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    And here in Israel?  The Jeff Coon’s Exhibition "Absolute Value" opened at the Tel Aviv Museum. To whom is this currently relevant? Who cares about absolute value these days?

     

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    *  Below are a few links to online exhibitions in museums and galleries. Please visit the exhibitions yourselves.

    National Museum of China - http://en.chnmuseum.cn/exhibition/#rep_exhibitions  [Two virtual exhibitions are now on site. Unfriendly to non-Chinese users].

    Museum of Art Academy of China - CAFAM- https://www.cafamuseum.org/en/exhibit/digitalmuseum

    Oh, how beautiful Anish Kapoor's exhibition is in reality and in virtual form!

    Shanghai Duolun Museum of Modern Art - https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/Xep5sD8Wub9l5vW8zMxN_Q

    Online Museum Exhibition Summary First batch - https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/uvP9LMv7LbxX1bxy21p0jw

    Golden Harvest Auction | Collect + Art Week-Ten Years of Manyi Online Exhibition -

    https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/OPnj_efVfKUHP3w6Gg4-4Q

    Online Exhibition | World Propositions - https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/iBuD3z0HXCpFXv8QEO0RYg

    Shanghai Himalaya Museum - http://www.himalayasart.cn/en/zljhlist.aspx?dl=16&xl=96

    Bank Gallery, Shanghai  - http://www.bankmabsociety.com/Portal/en-US/Exhibition

     

    Search WeChat with 线上展览reveals access to many more online exhibitions. There are resources available to you at:

    https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/Ne1fiuNjoLy__RlDjqkeDg. Hundreds of videos are available. The lengthy loading process and the quality of the photographs and works is disappointing in many cases.

     

    Thank you to my friends in China, artists, curators and managers of gallery & museums, who have shared with me their experiences, thoughts and works. Special thanks to MEG MAGGIO - curator, collector and owner of Pekin Fine Art Gallery and to art expert Dr. Zheng Tao in Beijing.

     

    © All rights to the text and publication of pictures belong to Dr. Shoshan Brosh-Levitt. This post was appeared first in Hebrew in my blog “Yesinrael” on March 3, 2020.

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        3/5/20 12:56:

      שולח כוכב הערכה לפוסט המושקע והמלמד

      מוזמנת לטעום מהקפה שלי

        18/4/20 11:25:
      הימים האלה לא ייצאו מדלתות הזיכרון, וגם האמנות שצלמת שהיא עולם ומלואו ושכרוכה במודעות של חיים ומוות.
        18/4/20 09:46:

      Very interesting.

      China was first to suffer from the virus that has become a Pandemic. In Israel we say that it is a war against the plague.
      It is good to see that despite the war, the Muses dot shut up, but very active in China.
      All the best, Amos.

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