The Collected Ingredients of a Beijing Life

Holland Cotter of the New York Times reviews an unusual exhibit at MoMA, in which the full contents of the home of the artists’ mother are on display:

For nearly 60 years she lived in the city with her husband and two children in a tiny house crammed with domestic odds and ends — clothes, books, kitchen utensils, toiletries, school supplies, shopping bags, rice bowls, dolls — which were used, then recycled, then indiscriminately hoarded. Now the entire cache, every odd button and ballpoint pen, is at MoMA, along with Ms. Zhao’s fridge and bed.

How did it get here? Ms. Zhao was the mother of the artist Song Dong, one of the most inventive figures in contemporary Chinese art. He is often referred to as a Conceptualist, meaning an artist who trades as much in ideas as in materials. And it was he who had the idea of turning the contents of his mother’s home, which was also his childhood home, into the installation titled “Waste Not.” It is at once a record of a life, a history of a half-century of Chinese vernacular culture and a symbolic archive of impermanence.

Although new Chinese art has a reputation for brash iconoclasm, loss is really its big subject. Political Pop painting may be big at auctions, but much of the most interesting new work is less about attacking the powers that be than about regretting the diminishment of the powers that were, or might have been: familial cohesion, social stability and spiritual certainty. In this respect, China’s new art is very much on a continuum with its old art, specifically with the tradition of landscape painting with reiterated motifs of changing seasons, parting friends and dreams of a golden age.

See more about the exhibit from MoMA.

July 15, 2009 6:57 PM
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