It seems that we are just a small part of a much bigger picture. This whole 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 than pissing in a jar and putting a cross in it. In other words, it’s 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 because 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 that 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 McCartney 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 Beethoven 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.