It also seems that we are just a small part of a much bigger picture. All of this trip has arisen from the fact that there were 100 million (a third of the entire United States population) Chinese tourists outside of China last year, and that number is growing. Many of these tourists will be visiting Yellowstone National Park, and the Yellowstone Asia Initiative is planning for the growth of even more Chinese tourists in the years to come. Retired US Senator Max Baucus is now the US Ambassador to China and lives in Shanghai, and to top it off Montana Governor Bullock is on a trade mission at the same time as us; we will be meeting him tomorrow night. It does not stop there. One must also consider the atmosphere and current cultural and financial situation in China. Art is still an emerging cultural entity in China. During the cultural revolution there was a total repression of art, poetry, or higher education. Only in the last few years has contemporary art really started to take off, and there is still some censorship. China’s most famous artist, Ai Weiwei, has been much like Muhatma Gandhi and the British, continually in trouble and even kidnapped and “disappeared” for a prolonged period by the Chinese government for his constant rebelliousness in the public eye. There is a new sense of the upcoming generation that has commented that “We don't care about governments or countries, that is the old thinking.”
This idea could not be more true for me. My perceptions of China were all wrong. The world I knew two weeks ago is forever gone, and my life altered in an anticipated and expected way, but delivered to me in a very unexpected form.
After wandering a number of the galleries in downtown shanghai, I realized I knew nothing about art if this was it. I had run into the same scene in NYC and other places….where it becomes less about the content, and more about the story of how it was created. Giant paper mache structures hanging from the ceiling, with no real semblance of anything, just crudely put together with no apparent skill, looking like soggy toilet paper, or the strange empty room with a box full of broken clay figures, and the clay figures looked like kindergartners made them. And it went on, stranger and more bizarre shows that showed no sign of any talent at anything other that pissing in a jar and putting a cross in it. In other words, its about hype and storytelling, over it just being art. For years I have been pissed off by people calling their pieces “modern art”, but they don't know the history behind the term or what it means. They simply throw it out there in a blanket statement to cover their ass when they produce a piece with no talent and no work, and then to top it off they slap a $4000 price tag on it arbitrarily. I often tell people that if a real estate agent tried to sell you a shack on the hill with no plumbing or electric, you wouldn't buy it for an exorbitant cost because it was “modern architecture.” The same applies to art, and the arts.
There is a reason I love Mikhail Baryshnikov: because he was not only great at expressing the essence of art in ballet, but he strove to be better and was talented in the first place. Just cause it is presented as “The New York Ballet” or Harvard does not mean it is the best. I once saw a young aspiring ballerina that made up her own modern dance at a small rural community talent show, and it was so beautiful I cried, andTed Kazinsky went to Harvard. I recently saw The Phantom of the Opera performed at the Shane Center in Livingston, Montana. It was put on by high school kids, and they put every other broadway performance to shame. It was one of the best plays I have ever seen anywhere in the world. I love a lot of bands, not because of the hype, (I never thought going backstage was a big deal because I had worked so many big shows such as Paul Mcartney this summer, and I saw that they are just people, not nearly as special as they were made out to be), but because they were talented.
I love Beehtoven and the Metallica equally because of the works they have produced. Lloyd Wright, Santiago Calatrava, and Le Corbusier all did incredible things with buildings and sculpture that resonate with me, and inspire me when I see their creations. That being said I also love a lot of the punk rock of the 80’s, and most of them were no-talent musical hacks without melodious voices, but what they were doing was very progressive, expressive, and most important: it was rebellion against the old way of thinking.
The definition of modern art is: “usually associated with art in which the traditions of the past have been thrown aside in a spirit of experimentation. Modern artists experimented with new ways of seeing and with fresh ideas about the nature of materials and functions of art. A tendency away from the narrative, which was characteristic for the traditional arts, toward abstraction is characteristic of much modern art.”
Then again, I have no official studying or traditional learning in the realm of art.
Riding in the taxi on the way back to the 188 art studio where we would continue with painting the porcelain, I stared out the window watching the endless city skyline pass by in slow, stop and go, bumper to bumper traffic. I could hear the peoples’ conversations on the streets, and the bustle and whirl of cars, bicycles, and scooters, all zipping and swerving and moving and honking. A great long giant snake made up of millions of smaller parts joining the flow and disembarking at their destinations. I found myself amazed at the architecture of the city, as Joe and I talked about art and the art scene, how to market yourself, how to make money at it, what art was to us, who to sell to, what your priorities should be….and as my mind searched and wandered and wondered what I would do with these plain white porcelain vases, and how why i would do would reflect the architectural ideas I had. how would I do something original? Would it be Art? After seeing the plethora of studios I began to wonder what art was and if that had been art I hd no idea what to do.
The Chinese people are wonderful and welcoming, and 188 has been an accommodating and gracious host, and the other artists I am traveling with and the Chinese artists are all down to earth, real, and quite wonderful and pleasant. China is a unique place for art. It is one of the oldest civilizations on the planet, and yet there was a clean sweep of wiping out all that culture for several decades. Now that it has opened up again it is reinventing itself. Not totally disregarding its ancient heritage, but revitalizing it while simultaneously reinventing “ART”. It is a land where it is all experimentation, and every piece is revolutionary in its essence, rebelling against the repression and censorship. The Art world of China isa booming Punk-Rock scene, and I love it.
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei following his arrest at Beijing Capital International Airport on 3 April, he was held for 81 days without any official charges being filed; officials alluded to their allegations of "economic crimes".
It is the art scene of the US that disturbs me:
It was a pretensious New Yorker that invaded this peaceful space and brought their arrogant attitude that NYC was the center of everything, and they were the center of that. She was a good looking asian woman from NYC, and when I greeted here excitedly to meet another American, she haughtily asked where I was from, and I belted out MONTANA! with enthusiasm and told em how much I like NYC too. Her reply was a lazy look and lifted her hand into the air and made a poofing gesture and lackadaisically saying “that's like…nowhere…?”
At this point I would like to illustrate fully that I have always felt a sailor-esque sense in my travels, and have lived life not entirely of vice, but have certainly lived a gritty one that many a self-righteous feeling people would admonish, but I embrace it with vigor and love. I have been in fights and brawls, and many of them I have no apologies for as the one who I was tangling with probably had done something to provoke the situation: Like this bitch here. The bottom line is that we were in a tattoo bar in an off street in Shanghai after the bars had already closed and kicked out all the yelling Americans and Spaniards. My point: I had to refrain from either giving here a good ass chewing, cussing here out and telling her off, or simply belting her a quick right hand jab to the nose. All three options ran through my mind in a flash, and after a long lengthy experience of pretentious uppity cunts like this, I opted for silence and to just let her fade out of my realm of existence.
It is the arrogance of the Art world that so many try to hype up and intimidate people as if they can not understand the ART of it. Parks described it best as “The Emporer’s New Clothes”, As if there is some magical and enlightened experience they have that gives them some certificate to be an asshole. Fuck-em I say. And thats really the only way to put it. It gets the point across real quick, and from there you can go back to your business of doing art and studying it and crafting it with passion. The more I thought about the scene of high “ART” in America, the more I realized why I had retreated to Livingston, Montana, and even further still into Paradise Valley at my house as a fortress of solitude.
These ideas are worth mentioning because all of the Chinese and American artists I am traveling with are very much Rebels in their own way, but have still managed to have a life in the Art world. The bottom line is that this is an exciting place to be: 4 American rebel artists showing who we are, and doing what we do.