Tag Archives: Work Published Elsewhere

When the U.S. Wants to Criticize 'Chinese Art'

In The New Republic, Jed Perl exercises no economy of words in lambasting art from China and its growing global following. Based on a reading of “Chinese art” that does not apparently leave the island of Manhattan, Perl makes several questionable statements, often abetted by lack of knowledge, and Alan Baumler at Frog in a Well has already taken some of them to task.

I find some solace in Perl’s admission that: “This is not to say that there is nothing of value going on in China today: I do not know all there is to know about art in China. What I do know is that the work that is being promoted around the world as the cutting edge of new Chinese art is overblown and meretricious.” Fine, but this comes only after hundreds of words of under-informed negativity and no apparent experience with Chinese art that hasn’t arrived in New York or Venice.

Missing from Perl’s account is the pervasive sense of unease among many in Beijing’s art scene, both Chinese and foreign, as they have watched the transformation of spaces such as the 798 Art District into pedestrian mall commercial centers, and as they have watched some of the artists Perl criticizes grow their bank accounts with manufactured art.

That’s one of the things Angie Baecker and I tried to capture with our article in the current issue (No. 59) of Art Asia Pacific. We examined the plans and sentiments of some major art spaces and figures in Beijing leading up to the Olympics. And we found a mixture of excitement and trepidation, sometimes with both sentiments coming from the same person.

Totally unexamined by Perl, for instance, are the artists whose work rarely if ever engages political and nationalist issues. And others who openly criticize the government and the country’s history, even if with a certain care to avoid publicity that could threaten their livelihood. Then there’s Ai Weiwei, both involved with and vocally opposed to the Olympics. In the classic media formulation, his contributions to the design of the Olympic stadium are tempered by his criticism of the government. (“The Olympics are an opportunity to redefine the country, but the message is always wrong,” Ai says in our article.)

I would not discount the possibility that some of Ai’s repeated statements have been motivated by a desire for publicity. But for those who make their commentaries in private and whose art-with-message works face government scrutiny, the spotlight is neither welcomed nor sought.

Criticizing a country’s art without engaging even well-reported examples that don’t support one’s criticism is an art world example of the basic structure of [insert country]-bashing: Find some well-accepted tropes about the target country that are well-reported but unconfirmed by the critic, and then use them as the basis of an argument that makes no effort to engage the actual thoughts or facts of life of those involved.

Could it be that a critic writing in a derivative way in the milieu of China-bashing is just as guilty as artists who profit from market-friendly, easily digestible political messages?

Celebrating May Fourth With Slow Internet

The internet is unusually sluggish today. I wrote a bit about some possible reasons why at Sinobyte.

Blogspot has re-disappeared, MSN Messenger is inaccessible from an artsy Beijing cafe, searches for Carrefour are just back from going unanswered, and the spring sky is clear. It’s the 89th anniversary of China’s May Fourth Movement.

In 1919, student activism took a powerful and still-honored turn for the patriotic in China. On May 4, thousands of students gathered at Tiananmen to protest the Treaty of Versailles and its treatment of previously German-held territory in Shandong Province, which was given to Japan rather than back to China.

Today, students have been at the forefront of recent demonstrations of national pride in the face of demonstrations against the Olympic flame as it toured the world. After a French demonstrator went after a woman carrying the torch in a wheelchair, anti-French sentiment was converted to demonstrations and boycotts directed against the French megamart Carrefour.

Go read the full post here.

Transpacifica's New Blogging Project: Sinobyte at CNET

They said this day would never come.

Perhaps the biggest fight I’ve ever picked in the blogosphere was when I wrote an opinion piece while a writing intern at Editor & Publisher in 2005 arguing that newspapers should get over blogging and put more energy into innovation. It ran under the provocative headline “Forget Blogs,” and declared, “Blogs are a horrible way to deliver journalism. Forget them.” You can imagine the kind of reception this got from bloggers.

The argument was a bit more subtle, and I think it has stood the test of two and a half years. I was trying to convince editors and publishers to put more resources into non-blog online content. And many newspapers have. Many people know about innovations made by The New York Times, but fewer keep track of the minor successes of hundreds of smaller newspapers using non-blog online media to do journalism. Bravo!

I was a blogger then, and obviously am now. I just thought big media companies should be able to put together more engaging media than I can in my spare time. This doesn’t entirely eliminate the irony that now, as a freelance writer and freelance student living in Beijing, I’m launching a blog that will be my most consistent work. In a real sense, a guy who argued that blogs aren’t all that has become a professional blogger.

So here it is. As part of the CNET Blog Network, I am now the author of Sinobyte, which will follow technology in China and Asia from my perspective as a student of media, politics, and society. All I have there so far is an introductory page, but check back later this week for an account of an impending trip to a mobile phone market and several other interesting developments that have been churning in early 2008. Subscribe to Sinobyte’s RSS feed here.

What does this mean for Transpacifica? Not much. I’ll still be writing here on transpacific relations and political and social issues in Asia. But I won’t be writing so much about the Chinese internet here. That work, and much more, will from now on show up on Sinobyte. Enjoy!

My Article for TBJ's New 'Urbane' on Beijing's Ullens Center for Contemporary Art

That’s Beijing‘s design and lifestyle companion known until now as tbjhome became urbane with the January 2008 issue. It also contains my first story for the publication: a look at French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte’s rework of a 1950s weapons factory for the new Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing’s 798 Art District. Urbane‘s website does not have text online yet, but those interested can read from the photographs below.

Urbane - The Factory - Page One of Three Urbane - The Factory - Page Two of Three Urbane - The Factory - Page Three of Three