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Perhaps Only Three Events This Year…


Hi Art, July-August 2008


By the time this text is printed, I will most likely have already completed an artist in residency program at a museum near New York. In other words I’ll have been an outsourced laborer. The program is well known; Alexander Calder produced sculptures there.

The residency lasts three months! The two and a half months I spent in Cambodia was already quite nerve racking as I’ve never been away for such an extended period of time. The day before I left, we had a going-away dinner with Cheng Xindong. Over dinner, we chatted about a number of events, which occurred this year. I recall there were three major events: 1. the earthquake in Sichuan; 2. The Beijing Olympic games; and 3. Gerhard Richter’s Solo Exhibition at the National Art Museum of China.

I don’t need to elaborate on the first event. The central government mobilized and the overall national rescue response was outstanding.  There were emotional stories and countless tears. Both the Chinese and international responses were positive. Foreign nations jumped into the earthquake relief effort after witnessing how the Chinese government respected and valued the lives of her people, earning international admiration, which led to a mutual understanding. The entire nation realized how important it is to love humanity and practice compassion.  One particularly moving incident was premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to the disaster site.  He spoke to the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) officers stating, “the people nurtured you, now you should know what to do!”  Our eyes filled with tears when we watched this scene on television. It has been years since the people heard such sincere and truthful words, which were rational, honest and empowering. This direct approach was more effective and comforting than going on about how the human spirit can overcome fate, who belongs to which team, or who will prevail etc... Wen’s words implied that responsibility has to be implemented immediately with precision. The bodies buried beneath the rubble were our parents, the leaders of the country.  As time passed the impact of reality set in.  They were racing against time and their actions had to be quick. Secondly, the premier informed the people outside of the disaster area about the government’s actions and the logical relationship between duty and responsibility.  Thirdly, he let the world know that we would do everything possible to save the victims rather than stand on the sidelines.  The earthquake was cruel, but it taught us the value of family, the power of the collective, and that the strength of our nation is boundless. We are a true nation that mobilizes during times of need rather than a nation that simply goes around checking Identification Cards in the middle of the night.

Secondly, the Beijing Olympic Games, which did not captivate me as much as the Sichuan Earthquake, captured the focus of the Chinese people. This wasn’t the first Olympics. Many other countries have hosted the games before.  Some countries have hosted more than once, and generally speaking every Olympics has been quite successful, especially the Atlanta Olympics held in the United States. Some locals didn’t know anything about the Beijing games and the United States government was not very passionate about them. Two commercial sponsors monopolized the Beijing Olympics. Instead of burdening the public, they earned a few billion dollars in profit.  Benefiting the nation and its people was considered exemplary. A second point is that since applying to host the Olympics nearly a decade ago, there was no room for any mistakes.  The outcome had to be flawless or it would have embarrassed the nation.  Perhaps mistakes would have led the ‘contractors’ to compromise and accept a mini Olympics. It’s easy to catch a handful of corrupt officials and jail them together-perhaps this is another type of Olympics.

A nation of such grandeur with thousands of years of history should do things rationally.  We’ve experienced poverty, but the people should be able to live with prosperity.  The country should demonstrate stability that allows its people to live less stressful lives.  The government spent the citizens’ money and should have done the job quietly so that the people could realize the level of expertise upon entering the Olympic Stadium.

Honestly, the Bird’s Nest is an embarrassment and cannot be considered an outstanding architectural design. Apparently the designers were inspired by the patterns and cracks on traditional Chinese ceramics, but I still don’t see the relationship because the structure looks more like a crushed basket of poop to me. The structure resembles the Workers Stadium with a lid- where is the degree of difficulty in that? A study stated the shadows from the metal railings on the Bird’s Nest would make the athlete dizzy and unable to complete the competition, so they had to add reflexive glass on top of the metal structure. As a result, the exterior looks neither like fish or flesh. Some parts have glass and others don’t.  It seems the budget ran out of certain places and they were overwhelmed with problems. A few pieces of glass cost a few billion dollars. Since the money is already gone, the experience should become a lesson. Future architecture students should be sent to the Bird’s Nest for their first class—one in cost calculation, of course the lesson should include and analysis of the financial cost, as well as the cultural cost.

The third major event this year was only mentioned in art related periodicals because talking about Richter in another context would be entirely irrelevant. Every artist knows the name Gerhard Richter-even their wives and children know about him. Graduates from art academies talk about Richter with their boyfriend or girlfriend on dates. The Richter show reminded us what is real.  Westerners invented oil painting and they tend to be more at ease with it.  It’s similar to a foreigner who will wear a T-shirt while riding a bicycle on the street in the middle of the winter.  We would never do that. We eat differently and have a different DNA. For a thousand years, we lived humbly- we knelt or squatted.

In a nutshell, I suggest everyone visit the Gerhard Richter Exhibition at the National Art Museum of China, which is ending soon. Furthermore, I encourage everyone to look at one of Richter’s most iconic series executed on October 18, 1977.  The work expresses beauty and audacity, as well as technical brilliance. If you have time, I strongly suggest picking up the catalog Ambiguous Form, a documentary on Richter’s notes, and The Daily Practice of Painting, an interview edited by Zhu Qi and Zhang Wei, published by Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House.

2008 Support Sichuan!

Zhu Wei

Thursday,June 26, 2008
















废话少说,我建议大家一定要看看中国美术馆里希特的个展,好像快要结束了。另外,一定要看看里希特的代表作之一《一九七七年十月十八号》系列,看看人家的魄力和胆识,以及由此产生的相应的技法。最后还有机会的话,买本朱其、张卫、湖南美术出版社出版的《形象的模糊》里希特的笔记和访谈文献一书,原名《The Daily Practice of Painting》。