I was at a dinner last night for the opening of a new show. Around me were a group that included a movie star, a media mogul, a real estate developer, and various other glamorous types. At the center of the table sat the celebrities. At either end of the table sat the artists.
My interest in art started when I was about seven. My mother took me to join a painting circle started by Gaylord Chan, a Hong Kong artist. As the adults drank wine and worked weeks on end on their works, I was encouraged to “express myself” and to “experiment with colour.”
As I grew older, trips to museums and fortuitous meetings with artists led to a trip through Beijing and Shanghai with a group of curators. In six days, during what were already the boom days of Chinese art, I suddenly realized that this was something that I could find interesting intellectually as well as aesthetically.
I was explicitly told that I was seated next to the artist because I spoke mandarin. I’d met him before and we had always had nice conversations. But last night, as I tried to juggle between the different languages (English to my left, Cantonese opposite me, and mandarin to my right), I found it rather impossible to have a conversation. I look at the artist who was struggling to converse with the people around him as well, and we went and sat at the bar for a quieter drink.
The explosion of interest in art both in China never ceases to amaze me. Everyone seems to have latched on – but at the same time, from the seating arrangements of our table, you can see that the artist and hence the art are generally actually marginalized.
In every crowd there are the true believers and the hanger-ons. I am personally constantly conflicted myself – do I actually care or am I trying to be a part of something that has the multiple connotations of intellectual content, aesthetic taste, and glamour? And furthermore, now , in a country with a rising number of art forums – workshops, galleries, museums, malls, hotels, parks and well, pretty much every or any type of space that you can imagine – one has to wonder, is there actually enough “art” to go around?
A few years back I asked another artist friend who had just been commissioned to make a piece for a major luxury brand how he felt about the very commercial work –it was a giant version of an iconic piece from the brand—that he had created. His answer was very simple - artists need to eat too.
It’s easy to be either idealistic or cynical in how one views the phenomenon of art, and to take either view with a positive or negative value judgment attached. But honestly, in the grand scheme of things, I guess it doesn’t matter that much as long as we all came and had a good time.
In today’s world, very few intentions are pure. Most things that are expensive are done with commercial or at least tactical intentions. What I hope though is that the positive externalities of these projects exceed the negative, and that the meaning and value of the contents don’t get degraded in the process. And yes – I got a picture with the stars of the evening. You can decide whether I mean the artist or the actress.
Pleats Please by Issey Miyake//
Love the way the clothes are folded in to sushi pieces for these print ads.