Monday, June 2, 2008

Beijing Week Part 2: Legation Quarter, Guanxi with a vengeance and How to Look at Video Art Without Electricity

Legation Quarter is a nice, serious, colonialist, albeit slightly Star Trekky name for the new developmental project effort of Handel Lee (and probably a host of other super-rich, high-profile, big-governmental related folks). With a yellow Hummer, MBenz A-class and Land Rover parked outside its very well guarded gate, Legation Quarter sits to the direct south east of Tiananmen Square, very near Qianmen (the front gate of the forbidden city) and across the street from the Urban Planning museum, a very sensitive and significant setting indeed. The complex purports to host a bunch of luxury boutiques, restaurants, spas, hotel(?) and The Beijing Contemporary Art Center (which, despite the rest of the place being in a sloppy scramble to finish renovations, had opened independently to the public last week.)

Not only is the National Museum of Arts currently hosting “avant garde” art at the moment but this nice little slice of Beijing Central is being besieged by a private, sophisticated contemporary art center which depends on the pretenses of dissent and subversion in order to keep its critical status as avant garde and subsequently nosebleed prices at auction. Weng Ling, CCA’s (Chinese Contemporary Art/ Contemporary Chinese Art/ Contemporary Art from China) dragon lady numero uno and long time cohort of Handel Lee (lawyer, founder of Beijing’s first gallery/restaurant The Courtyard, and partner in Shanghai’s 3 on the Bund including Shanghai Gallery of Art) is the curator/ director of this art palace. The inaugural exhibition is called “Where Are We?” Despite the intriguing title Weng Ling knows damn well where we are. The show includes the blue chip list of mainly the usual suspects – with Liu Wei (aka Xiao Liuwei) thrown in as an up and coming twist on this mostly 40 something year old bunch. The show’s lower floors is mostly video but on the day we went the electricity in the whole complex, maybe even the entire district had gone out. So much for all the hype… But this left an interesting little dilemma How to view electronic art without the electricity... What did all these idle machines, monitors, and projectors amount to- poised as they were in eternity, pointed against blank walls, strapped to cross beams with strips of tape across the lenses? Did this collection of wires and circuits possess any of its own sublimity? What essentially is the projected image? Aren't these spaces and equipment almost equally as essential as the content?
Anyway – these blackout works were my favorite pieces in the show

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