I like that I packed last night. My morning is simply a wash and go affair. The hotel is storing my luggage and will call a cab for the ride to the airport when I return from my exploration into Beijing’s contemporary art scene.
The 798 Art Zone is a huge complex. Once a ___________ factory, it has become a major commercial art hub out of what used to be a just a place with a handful of working artists. While some of the work is interesting and a handful world class, most of what I see is bordering on mediocre. Sophomoric is the word that comes to mind. That, and egoistic. Still, the trip is worth it, and my opinion might be different if more galleries were open. Several places are installing new shows, and many just have closed doors. It s winter. Even so, at noon, the place is teeming with sightseers and the trinket shops are full of potential buyers. Lots of selfies being made with the outdoor art as backdrops.
The spaces themselves are fabulous. Large with high ceilings, so high that one installation includes a stairway and “rooftop” exhibit. Most galleries hang their shows with a generous amount of space between pieces. One opulent exhibit space has four large galleries, about 50′ x 15′, each with a single flat screen monitor mounted on the end wall. That’s all. BIG spaces.
There are many video installations. Too many for my brain, and often several crowded close together. Most are talking heads, and long. Think Ai Weiwei. In fact, his influence permeates the scene, but not his brilliance, nor his profound social relevance.
One thing I have discovered is that the Chinese are not shy about imitation. Derivitive, that over-prevelent criticicm in the West, evidently isn’t a concern. Also, it is a culture of only children. Everyone, it seems, is a star. If art is largely attitude, they’ve got it made.
My ride out to the Zone was odd. The cabby fingered his walnut-like beads the entire way, and he was extremely calm. No zip zip, dodging in and out and around other cars, and no horn honking. That, in and of itself, is notable. Beijing drivers use their horns more than their steering wheels.
Are you wondering how he knew where to take me? The fellow who runs the hotel wrote the destination on a slip of paper. I just jumped in the cab and handed the Chinese script to the driver. And, having learned my lesson in Xi’an, I most definitely have the directions back to the hotel in my safe little belt bag.
The flight home will always be memorable. Not only did I watch three really good movies (The Judge, Birdman, Whiplash), I got to see the sun rise over Alaska: meandering wild rivers, with oxbows and resakas, and rose -tipped, snowy mountain ridges. Best of all, I just happened to open the window to have the glory of Denali fill the window frame. Wow.
So now I am through the horror of international arrivals at Seatac. Three full flights, one from Amsterdam, one from Dubai, and my flight from Beijing, all funneling through customs and baggage inspection. That’s normal. But here, anyone with a connecting flight — many many of us — were processed through a narrow hall to two old Xray security checks. We hadn’t even had the opportunity to leave the secured area, but that was what we had to do. All in all it took about two and a half hours. And here’s the strangest part: IT IS STILL TWO HOURS BEFORE I LEAVE FROM BEIJING!!! So weird.