Daily Archives: March 14, 2014

We Were Born Old – On Chinese Contemporary Art


Maybe some of you have already heard or even visited the Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China (http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2013/ink-art) at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.  Recently, a symposium (Feb 23rd) on the same topic was held at the MET, which attracted a lot of attentions in Mainland China. Let’s just hold on for a moment on the reception of “Western” critics, but to see how numerous Chinese critics have been writing a gobs out of it.

I just read something written from a Mainland-China based beloved contemporary critic Pi Li(皮力), who holds a relatively negative assessment on it. On one hand, he thinks that a Chinese contemporary exhibition on the subject of ink is already not a smart decision, let alone it is taken place at the MET. The “nationalism group” would consider that as not traditional enough, but the avant-guard people won’t take that seriously as contemporary art either. So it seems to be placed in an embarrassed position in between. On the other hand, he also expressed his disappointment on the general reception of MET’s choice of “Ink” as a representation of the Chineseness, which means it is so welcomed in the West! (Chineseness lol)

Earlier in 2008, after the essay Mao Crazy (http://www.newrepublic.com/article/mao-crazy) written by Jed Perl published on New Republic, it caused a splash among the art scene in Mainland China. Interestingly, another essay titled Western Authorities Derided Chinese contemporary Art As Too Evil (which is a newly distorted translation of Mao Crazy) has been attracting a lot of attentions on the Internet recently. Critic Pi Li commented on that saying the so-called  “Western authorities” has become an imaginary enemy but at the same time a beautiful dream lover to the Chinese contemporary art world.

He claimed, if the mass art audiences in China are no longer immune to anything from the “Western Authorities”, the diffidence of Chinese contemporary art is again revealed underneath its hot and glamorous appearance. In the meanwhile, what are the “Western Authorities”? And why does it matter a ton thus become many people’s concerns.

Pi Li quoted this saying to describe his upsets: “We were born old, will never have a chance to grow up until we die.” Even though I totally understand his concern, but I am not as worried as he does. After all, IMHO, who cares about authorities and “Chineseness”, in the West?

Pedro Reyes – People’s United Nations pUN



I first came across the work of Pedro Reyes when I was working at the Cultural Affairs of the Mexican Embassy in London. Back then, I had the chance to discover his Atlas de Innovación Ciudadana (Atlas for Civic Innovation) (2009), a portable exhibition consisting of a box of a hundred informative posters presenting innovative initiatives in the social, cultural, environmental and cultural realms. 

Last November, he presented a new exhibition titled People’s United Nations (pUN) at the Queens Museum. As you may (or may not) know, the Queens Museum building used to be the UN General Assembly meeting location between 1946 and 1950; Reyes’ exhibition is therefore a somewhat critical tribute to the transnational organisation.

The exhibition included a two day performance, during which a set of conflict-resolution techniques from a diverse range of fields (including theater and group therapy) was tested by a group of a 150 citizens-delegates to tackle what diplomacy has failed to do so far: solving the world’s problems.

I truly appreciate Pedro Reyes’ work and I am once again both amused and inspired by his exhibition at the Queens museum. He is an artist dealing with a multitude of different media and techniques with an ongoing focus on civic and community involvement, and the agency of art and design in problem solving within the educational, environmental, social and political realms.