CHINA DIARY #4 - April 2006
By Charles J. Hecht
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Left New York in pouring rain. The direct flight over was smooth and it was a
pleasure not to waste seven additional hours stopping and changing planes in
LA or Tokyo. When I got to the Beijing airport and contacted Li Gang, I was advised
that his car had broken down and to make my own arrangements. I got hustled by
a taxi solicitor at the airport who wanted to charge 400 RMB to take me to the
Pickled Arts Center. I took my luggage back and found someone who would do it
for 100. I knew I was overpaying by 50 RMB, but I just wanted to get there. When
I got there Li Gang was not there. His former home at the Pickled Arts Center
was totally abandoned as he had moved into a newly constructed flat in another
part of Beijing, which was part of a recently created mini city of 300,000 to
500,000 people. After some moving around, I was assigned to the room which I
had on two prior visits. It was cold.
After walking around and meeting a performance artist, Ana from Australia via
Poland, she invited me to a performance art piece and dinner that night at the
Pickled Arts compound. One part of her work was a depiction of ghosts which was
arrived at by taking away the whitewash on the wall. The ghost images were quite
good. She also had created paper money and paper television sets and cars, etc.
After a nap of an hour and a half, I got up and went down to the common area,
and there was wine and beer and snacks. The performance art consisting of the
demolition of all of the paper goods was an hour and a half late because the
photographer she wanted to take pictures of it had not yet shown up. In the dark,
everything was burned. Rather than going out with a bunch of people, I ended
up back at Ana's studio, where I talked with various artists Phil and Louise,
who had left their home in upstate New York and homeless, were traveling around
the world; Ruben a cinematographer from Birmingham, England along with his Swedish
girlfriend; Rae, a sculptor from Australia who was looking forward to her husband
coming in a week so we could talk over the great restaurants in Sydney, including
Tatsuya, Iceberg (overrated but with a great view of Bondi beach), Rockpool,
etc. It was cold.
The electricity went off in the night, so the temporary heater that I had put
into my room was not working. I got up early, but tried to stay in bed so I could
get on Beijing time and then off to Annie Lu's to buy food. I met Li Gang without
having breakfast. We then took a cab off to Annie Lu's, since his car had still
not been fixed. I picked up some groceries and then went to the studio where
they were working on the armature for my large bronze sculpture of Long and Slender.
The commission was for a 82 foot high bronze sculpture from a much smaller steel
sculpture. This was the same studio that I had stored my large Chinese flags,
but had been completely changed. Li Gang and his family formerly lived there
before there was the problem with the government knocking down some of the buildings
at the Beijing International Arts camp in Sou Jia Cun in March 2006. Almost all
of the artists immediately moved out. Li Gang's wife insisted they move out too,
and since his old place at the Pickled Arts Center was to be rented out for the
next year, they rented a flat, near Wendy's new school. Some of the artists were
now moving back to the Beijing International Art Camp, also known by its old
nickname, SAC, and Li was taking the ultimate optimist's viewpoint of actually
building on rooms in front of his rental units, even though most artists had
moved elsewhere. Two Norwegian artists, an art teacher and the 12 year old son
of Katrina had rented Li's smaller studio next to my work studio.
The beginning of the model was constructed from steel and corrugated box. The
proportions looked good, but I was bothered by the total lack of movement in
the beginning of the paper build-up. The armature had been constructed from the
model of Long and Slender I had previously Fed Exed over.
Rather than building out the full scale model in clay, the model makers decided
to use cut outs made from corrugated boxes, including the Fed Ex box used to
transport the original sculpture from New York. After looking at it for about
an hour, I realized what was missing. First, the individual cardboard pieces
had not been bent, second, there were certain sections on the bottom portion
that had been started that were not quite right, so I began to work with one
of the workmen, Ho Jei, to redo this section. We started by putting geep, a form
of plaster, on the cardboard for the initial mold and bending each piece while
the plaster was soft. As he was doing this, I started bending the cardboard.
That helped a lot as the new sculpture began to get movement and a certain sense
of depth. Once I got into this process, it was very satisfying. Each minor twist
or change made a big difference. While working at the studio we had the usual
mix of lookers coming in to look and comment. But there were far fewer than in
the past. It took me a while to feel comfortable working on this aspect of the
project. In the interim Li Gang was painting in the studio in the front.
Li came in and we walked to a local noodle house is Sou Jia Cun for lunch. We
each had a big bowl of steaming noodles with beef broth and some pieces of meat.
The total costs for two persons was 6 RMB or $.75. We then walked back to the
studio and began to work some more. I noticed that within each piece of corrugated
box there are certain air holes, and by playing with certain loose pieces I realized
that we could bend the corrugated box in a curved way and use the hot glue to
pour into the open areas that had been bent and this way we could get nice gentle
curves to the cardboard, which bend was sufficiently permanent for the geep.
Another workman joined us and we worked as a team bending the corrugated form
and then making the bend permanent with hot glue before putting on the geep.
This was a much better way to get the rhythm and feeling I wanted.
We finished about a third of the geep model of the sculpture and then Li and
I went off to meet Wendy, his daughter, and Mei, his wife, for dinner.
Hecht, Sculpture, 2006.
Their flat is in a new suburb approximately 10 minutes closer to the center of
Beijing and fairly near the Deshanzi art district. It was good to see Wendy and
Mei again. Wendy is now almost 6 and she was in a very good mood. The restaurant
was owned by an artist and there were a number of art books for sale. The food
was Hunan style. We ate very basically a bottle of beer, some warm white rice
wine, three or four simple appetizers, fish head stew, steamed bok choy and a
bowl of rice. That was more than enough for me. I was back in my room at 8:30
and asleep by 8:35. The heater worked much better.
Off to the studio, but Li Gang never showed up because his car was still broken.
I eventually contacted him. I commandeered a bike from one of the outside workmen,
who was redoing the electricity at the Pickled Arts compound, promising I would
be back at 5:00 p.m. We continued to work on putting geep and structuring the
framework for the initial plaster mold throughout the rest of the day.
For lunch we ran into a friend of Gang's, Chao Khan, who was doing interesting
work in reconstructing ancient Chinese/Inca underground cities. First he was
making a mold using cinder block. He was then going to make it in concrete. It
is an incredibly laborious and slow task and he had been working on creating
this one city, with at least one assistant, for approximately six months. It
is all underground, so as you take off each particular cinder block it shows
a new design and a new room.
We finished the geep process that afternoon and I then started to rework the
base of the large sculpture in clay, because the base of the model was too square
and a square base would not work with this large sculpture
While we were working on the main sculpture, the model was also being
made into a mold for a smaller bronze. The model had been nominated
to go into a juried competition to be held in a city in Central China.
I believe it is in the category of a foreign artist working in China.
My initial thought was to do the 2.5 meter sculpture in a green/black
patina and the small one in a shinier blackish patina; the large one
being suitable for outdoors and indoors and the smaller one only being
suitable for indoors.
At 4:45 I realized it was time to get back to the Pickled Arts Center, since
I promised to return the bike by 5:00. The winds going back were extremely
strong, but I made it at five on the dot. The workman was in the process of
using someone else's bike to get home and was very glad to see me. I showed
him it was exactly 5 o'clock, we both laughed and he took off with his own
bike. After checking my email messages, I took a nap at 6:30. I slept through
dinner and woke up the next morning feeling less jet lagged.
After a mixup on when to get started, I finally met Li Gang at 10:30 a.m. and
we went off to the Beijing Art Fair. He wanted to get there early to see certain
of his friends and other people set up their booths before the show officially
began at 2:00 p.m. Because he had to wait for a pass to get in, we stopped
at Hagen Daaz for coffee. Coffee for three was $11, which is more than it costs
for twenty lunches at the noodle shop or 8 lunches at the local restaurants
near the studio. What a difference 10 miles makes!
I spoke to Brian Wallace at the Red Gate Gallery, which had the first booth
after the entrance way and then wandered around for two hours till we were
to meet for lunch. Everyone was frantically making last second adjustments.
Marlborough Gallery of New York, which probably had the largest booth, was
frenetic. They appeared to be the only major U.S. gallery. There were a number
of Japanese galleries, which was new from last year. I was told that the reason
why is that the people heading the art fair this year were from Taiwan, and
the Japanese felt more comfortable with them. There were also a number of dealers
from Korea, Taiwan, France, Spain and Germany.
Some of the Korean dealers had some very strong and striking material. One
artist, Lon Dok, does these plastic inverted sculptures where you get the feeling
that someone stepped out of a time capsule and what is left is the former vision
of that person imbedded in the time capsule. These works ranged from $30,000
to $80,000. There was also a two man team, Tam Men, that did large oil paintings
of strange women accompanied by a man who was studiously working on his desk
and ignoring the women. I was told when I revisited in the late afternoon that
the two paintings had already been sold for $30,000 each.
Some of the local Beijing galleries had a lot of good materials, including
Imagine Gallery, which is run by Letitia. One of the artists she was showing
was Tung-Wen Margue, who I had met on one of my previous visits, and it was
good to see him again. We talked and decided we would try to have lunch and/or
dinner. I also met Abraham Lubelski of the Broadway Gallery, and we had a very
good visit at his booth. Abraham had arranged for a pass for me for the entire
four days. Abraham also had a booth for New York Arts Magazine.
That night, when Abraham went to the banquet for the directors of the galleries,
I ended up taking Wang and her husband Charles, who I had met previously at
an art gallery opening at the Pickled Arts Center, and four artists who either
worked for Abraham or I had previously met at his booth. It turned out after
speaking with them that I had met all of them at some point previously, and
they were all familiar with my large sculpture at the entrance of the Pickled
Art Center, and some were also familiar with my other work. Most of them were
young artists and they felt uncomfortable about eating at the hotel, which
we all agreed was very expensive. I said I would find a cheaper place, since
I was familiar with the area from my business trips. I found a place that I
had lunch with Ivy Zhou on my prior business visits which was good and reasonable
for that area, although the artists thought that everything was very overpriced.
It was difficult communicating with some of the artists, since very few of
them spoke English. Charles was trying to have a discussion with them on the
comparisons of Heidegger, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer with certain Chinese philosophers,
but since the artists that did speak English only spoke with a limited vocabulary,
I do not believe that they really understood what Charles was saying. I didn't
understand all of what he was saying either.
After dinner we met Abe at the lobby of the China World Hotel and, along with
a French photographer who he was showing, we went to an opening at a new hot
gallery, Art Now. It is part and parcel of a reconstructed Southern Chinese
house which has been turned into a deluxe restaurant. The opening was overcrowded
and extremely smokey. The featured artist was a Chinese man who now lives in
Paris and they were pieces of crumpled stainless steel with lettering on them
on the floor. People were walking all over the metal and I spoke to the director
and each piece was for sale for $10,000. Wang had previously shown there, and
from listening to the people my understanding was that the person who owned
the gallery also owned the restaurant and was accumulating a large collection
by setting up this gallery. Many of the gallery owners from the art fair were
present. We walked through the restaurant, which was beautiful and its menu
indicated that it charged high end Manhattan prices.
After the art fair Xaio Yan, Hao Li and I went to Hao Li's studio to see her
recent work. She is interested in painting women and, some lesbian scenes.
Men were not part of her work except as separate and apart from a woman and
a much smaller part of the painting. I found it interesting. She gave me a
signed catalogue of hers. Her women look very much like a Chinese version of
Matisse's figures. It was very nice work from a technical point of view, just
not to my taste. Then Xaio Yan and I took a cab back to the Pickled Art compound.
Xaio's husband lives with her generally, but their apartment is so far out
of town that she lives at the Pickled Art Center for much of the year so she
can be nearer her work. On the way back we stopped at 11:30 p.m. at the computer
print shop that I previously used for the computer lay-out for my calligraphy/etching
in the flag and harmony series. They were still open and Xaio Yan needed more
business cards the next day. The taxi waited while she worked things out with
the owner. I was very impressed that the owner and his wife were still working
at almost midnight. When we got back, the compound was locked. It had never
been locked before. However, Xaio Yan knew a way to get the bars removed. After
we got in, she not only put the bars back the way they were, but added a special
lock. I asked her what happens if someone is coming back even later. Her answer
was that that was their problem.
The sun is out brightly and it is the first day that it has been able to penetrate
the pollution. I could actually see the sky. I rode to the studio on my bike
to do some work on the base, and sign and date the piece. As I was about to
leave the studio, Li Gang arrived and I helped him load some woodcuts back
into his van. We then went back into the main thoroughfare so that I could
get new sim cards for my China cell phone, since three calls to the States
had used up all of my phone card. We went back to the Pickled Arts compound.
Li had some meetings and I did some reading. At 12:30 I came down to meet him
for lunch and he asked me to help him with some print making for his woodcuts.
Li explained to me that he did this years ago when he was in Australia and
wanted to take it up again. Before we went to visit a metal fabricator, Li
and I ate a simple meal at a local restaurant of three vegetable dishes. It
was more than enough. We were then picked up by the van with a Norwegian sculptors
and art teacher, a woman Scottish sculptor and her friend, and went off to
another metal fabricator that was doing work for the Scottish sculptor, who
now worked in Beijing as a French teacher. Li said that the two fabricators
that I had previously worked with were too busy. This fabricator was located
about 25 minutes away from the compound by car, somewhere near the Dashanzi
area. I was not impressed with the quality of the work. It also seemed like
a good portion of their work was commercial, rather than sculptural. We then
went to the art fair.
In the interim I had finally been able to contact Martha Vincent at the American
Chamber of Commerce Beijing. Apparently, I was adding too many digits to her
phone number. She explained to me that she was going away on a six day cruise
up the Yangtze River and asked me to send her a visual presentation of my proposed
sculpture. When I got to the art fair, I decided to get some paper and pens
and redrafted the proposal so I could fax it to her before the end of the day,
rather than trying to go back to the compound to retrieve my original drawings.
I was able to use the business center at the China World Hotel and faxed the
proposal just before the American Chamber of Commerce cocktail party at Brown's,
which I was invited to. After spending some more time at the art fair, I felt
it would be more productive to go to Brown's to meet Martha and other persons,
including those that would make the decision on the sculpture commission.
Brown's is located in the bar area of Beijing. It was almost impossible to
find, but I eventually found it. It was a re-creation of an English pub. It
was a classic exchange of cards and welcoming old and new members of the American
Chamber of Commerce cocktail party. I was able to see the people I felt would
be responsible for making the decision and we discussed the commission briefly,
as well as the American Chamber's role in Beijing. The party was very well
organized and had a concept which more American companies could adopt. Everyone
who attended was given chits for two free beers. They also had a hot table
for hors d'oeuvres and food for those who did not want to have dinner. Martha
made sure everyone circulated. Since I was going to a small dinner gathering
at the Red Gate Gallery, I passed on the food, but the beer tasted great.
The Red Gate Gallery is in a magnificent location; however, you have to walk
up a number of steps in order to get to the gallery. The gallery itself is
a work of art. They had a one man show for Zhu Wei. His larger pieces go for
$30,000 - $40,000. However, I was most intrigued by the small prints, which
were beautifully framed. Unlike the prior event at Art Now, this was not overcrowded,
was beautifully catered, and surprisingly, I knew almost everyone there from
either the art fair or my prior visits to Beijing. A cab ride home with Ana,
the Polish sculptor who did the live performance on the night I arrived, and
Xaio Yan, who was Abraham Lubelski's assistant, ended the evening. After everyone
talked for the first ten or fifteen minutes, it became very quiet as everyone
became very pensive. I was sound asleep by eleven and slept through the night.
Li Gang was unable to come to the Red Gate. Apparently,
his mother-in-law, who is dying of pancreatic cancer,
had taken a turn for the worse, so I assumed he was
unable to attend the Red Gate reception.
Friday, April 14. I spoke to Li Gang. He had worked all night doing print making
at the Pickled Arts Center. I rode over to the studio in his rental car. I
worked at cleaning rough spots off the plaster mold before wax was put on.
A couple of Norwegian artists were next door and came over to talk to Li Gang.
One started talking to me and asked me where I was showing. I explained to
Kari that I was not showing anywhere in Beijing, but that I was there solely
to create sculpture this time. At one point in the conversation she finally
asked me where she could see some of my work and I told her that one piece
was hanging in front of the Pickled Art Center. She asked me if that was the
American/Chinese flag with the calligraphy and then promptly proceeded to say
that she thought it was very cool. It was the first picture that she took after
arriving in China. I continued to work on cleaning up the plaster mold. Certain
parts I was unable to work on, because Li Gang's crew had already started the
next step in the molding process, which is preparing it for the first coat
At lunch we met David Evison, who was from Scotland but is a professor at an
art college in Berlin. We talked extensively about the David Smith show. David
Smith is his favorite sculptor, and he believes that he is far superior to
Calder or anyone else in the 20th century. It told him I thought the show at
the Guggenheim in New York was terrific and he was going to see if he could
see the show when it came to London or Paris, although he had been told that
it would have some different pieces. We went to another local restaurant with
a more extensive menu.
Beijing, April 2006.
Li Gang had made arrangements for me to see Guan Dong Hai, a professor in charge
of the glass department at Tsing Hua University. Li needed a nap after the
beers and lunch, but I got the address and phone numbers from Li and proceeded
to visit Dong Hai. He was located in temporary quarters at the original location
of the University. I basically called Dong Hai and gave my cell phone to the
taxi driver who was then guided to the correct address. Dong Hai advised me
that, unfortunately, the hot shop had not yet been built that would be needed
to do the glass in my glass and steel sculpture series. There would be a hot
shop at the new facility on the new campus of Tsing Hua University. However,
we discussed alternatives and I brought some of the steel models with me. We
came up with a possible solution. Li Gang would cast the sculptures in plastic
and/or rubber latex molds and we discussed the short comings of sheet glass
for what I wanted to do. We eventually came up with a tentative solution of
creating a glass mold around the plaster/latex mold for the glass. With this
I could do colors and the central part would be slumped over sheet glass, which
we would fuse with the outside colored glass. It could be interesting. We discussed
how much time it would take and whether or not I could complete this project
in the remaining two weeks.
In viewing the metal models he asked me if upon my return I would speak to
the students in the metal sculpture classes because he liked some of the techniques
that he saw in the steel sculptures of the sea critters, which would be the
base for more of the glass and steel series. I then took the steel sculptures
in the sea critter series back to Li Gang's gallery at 798, Two Lines Gallery.
Li Gang and I discussed the molding process that would be required and how
he could do this. On three of the sculptures the curved legs posed a casting
problem, which he decided could be solved by cutting off the legs for purposes
of making the mold and then doing a separate bronze mold for each of the legs,
and then welding them back on to complete the sculpture. In this way, I would
have the mold for the project with Tsing Hua University, I would still have
the steel sculptures, which I could either leave alone or use my regular technique
at Urban Glass, and I would also have separate bronze sculptures, which could
either be stand alone or covered in glass using the process I had developed
at Urban Glass.
Ironically, Leslie has told me on a number of occasions that she likes these
sculptures just at they are without the glass. She also likes them with the
glass. This may lead to a solution where everyone can look at the same form
in a number of different ways. I found it kind of exciting.
Rather than lugging the small steel sculptures back to my studio at SAC, which
was Li Gang's former studio and where he used to live before the political
and permit problems concerning that facility, Li Gang said that one of his
people would take them back and we went to the opening of a brand new gallery,
Art Channel. It was difficult to find. I wanted to find it because Tung-Wen
Margue, an artist from Luxembourg who I had met on one of my previous visits,
was having a show there. It was interesting and very nice space. There were
a lot of the same persons that I normally see at these Beijing gallery openings
at this show. It was good to spend some more time with Tung-Wen, and seeing
certain of the other people that I hadn't seen before such as Alessandro, a
painter from Italy, who has been residing temporarily in Beijing for almost
He told me that he thought it was time for him to leave Beijing, as he had
outgrown all of his sources there and want to take on London or New York. He
was leaning towards London because it was nearer Italy, and he felt it was
not quite as competitive. After wine and eating cocktail goodies, we then went
to another gallery, F2. We went in separate cars, and the car I was in got
lost. We eventually got there. F2 is a spectacular looking gallery. The main
room is large, open and airy. Off the main room is a quiet sitting room and
offices. Beyond that is another show area with a large kitchen. We did not
have to go to dinner because there was more than enough food to eat. Everyone
was very dressed up, except Li Gang and myself. We had just come from working
and did not have time to change. I also met Li Gang's new American contact,
Tom Jones, a lawyer from Freshfields. He seemed like a real nice guy. However,
once one of the gallery owners came over to talk to Mr. Jones, I left them
alone to let the gallery owner make his pitch. I was dog tired. Li did not
want to leave; however some of the other people who were staying at the Pickled
Art Center wanted to leave, so the group of eight of us walked out to the main
road and were able to flag down two cabs. I was asleep within five minutes.
Hecht, Sculpture, 2006.
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