when in doubt … cliché and generalise

Two almost opposite examinations of art or culture came from Ou Ning’s blog today, the first a textless photographic documentary, 乡土凋零, observing a village barren of people, the end of the world, even an empty outdoor opera stage, home to motorbikes and a table of distant, seated figures.

The second, from New York Times Magazine on contemporary art in China. I used to lament the execrable editorial retardedness that could induce every newspaper and magazine to endlessly refer to Mao or the Cultural Revolution in every title of every article about China. In an effort to see hip and up with the times it’s now often a reference to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon just leaves me thinking they’d be better off and advance Euro-Sino-Freundschaft more if they just shut up.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Agenda is an atrocious article full of name-dropping and disconnected sprawling from one topic to the next, almost a shopping list of every foreigner who has even glanced at Chinese contemporary art in the last two decades. As a magazine filler story, which in English language media is largely what writing about art is concerned with, this is not such a surprise.

What is hideous and smacks of the very ‘orientalist’ racism the author charges certain nameless collectors with (though Uli Sigg’s name appears immediately afterwards in a deliberately obscure conjunction of two sentences) is such remarks as “I’m not convinced that we Westerners really understand what’s going on there.” That the writer is also a former curator of the Venice Biennale, Francesco Bonami is disturbing, as he plays on one hand with some odious “inscrutable China” generalisations and on the other with sympathetic, cultural insider, and defender of Chinese contemporary art.

The last paragraph though, is full of bizarre and non-sensical tangled mess of metaphors, undefined allusions, and outright cultural colonialism, an illiterate scrawl of meaninglessness. This is lazy journalism at its worst, and certainly does no favours for the artists it profiles. It highlights a certain impoverishment in traditional journalism, despite the massive resources underpinning a paper such as NYT. Contra this, a blog like Heaven Tree, writing frequently on Chinese culture, history, art is emblematic of the phenomenal quality of individuals writing out of passion.

Saving itself from some of the roadkill is the slideshow and accompanying notes on several prominent artists including Ou Ning and Cao Fei from Guangzhou now based in Beijing, Xu Zhen from Shanghai, and Yangjiang’s Zheng Guogu. Skip the article and go right to the slideshow.