Charles Hecht

China Diary #6

Day One

The flight into Beijing was on time. It was pouring rain. I tried to make a call on my cell phone. I was shocked to learn that because I had not used my cell phone number for more than six months I had lost my telephone number. For a small fee I could reactivate my existing balance and get a new number. Of course, I had given out my old number to everyone back in the states and all of my Chinese friends had my old number.

Sou Chou, Li Gang’s contractor of choice and his partner in the now-defunct Artists Inn, accompanied by one of his computer programmers, finally picked me up at the airport about an hour and a half after I arrived. It was good to see familiar faces. I am staying in one of Li Gang’s studios in the Beijing International Artists Camp, called SAC, right next to the studio that I always use. Someone had just left and in the process had not emptied out the refrigerator or the baskets in the bathroom. Later, I learned that this is where some of Li Gang’s workers were living. Because of the telephone snafu, I wanted to be up on the Internet with my portable computer as soon as possible. I noticed a landline in the unit. The landline also had an high speed Internet connection. Unfortunately, the phone was dead. Apparently Li Gang’s workers had switched the line to the next unit since they were living above that studio. I called Li Gang and he sent over one of his technical people. She got the line reconnected to my unit and brought in a modem. Within an hour I was connected to the Internet.

Li Gang came by to pick me up for dinner. We were joined by Peter Lewis, an artist who lives in South Orange, New Jersey, and is in charge of the art department at the University of Massachusetts. Peter is a painter. He told us that he had just finished a large on-site commission in Bavaria, Germany. He apparently shows through six galleries all over the world and is having trouble keeping up with their demands, and is thinking about selling his art directly. He asked me my thoughts and I said that it is a nice problem to have. He should let the galleries do their thing so that he could focus on creating his art.

We looked at one of the new artist communities under construction in a pre-existing industrial area behind the Beijing duck house where I like to go to dinner. The units are four feet taller than the existing units and the one I looked at had loads of light. Li Gang and his contractor of choice, Sou Chou, were part owners in this project. The location seemed remote and in a very industrial area, and the “art community” is quite small. But it did have a nice central courtyard and the units have central heat which is a big plus. I decided to come during the daytime to get a better sense for the neighborhood. We then went out to dinner at the local Beijing duck house. Beijing duck combined with local beer is a great first meal in Beijing. There were also a couple of side dishes.

We then heard from Abe Lubelski and went over to visit him at his new apartment/studio/gallery complex at the Art Village in Hegezhuang. He now has over 600 m² and the front is now a vegetable garden. Abraham and Peter had previous dealings and had worked on some projects together. Abraham mentioned that a Spanish artist/curator from New York was curating a large show in the compound next to where he was living and told Peter and me to check into it, since the gallery was featuring American artists working in China. We said we would check into it. Li Gang and I also played a little ping-pong but I was dead tired and was not up to a fast paced game, so I bowed out early. We then went off to Jenny Lu’s for groceries but it was after 10 o’clock and it was closed. I came home and made sure to send e-mails to my office about my new cell phone number in China. I was exhausted. My bed had no traditional mattress so I found a mattress that had not yet been unpacked and slept on that for a fairly good night’s sleep.

Day Two

I woke up at seven o’clock. After a nice hot shower I cleaned up the kitchen. I looked for tea, which I could not find. I walked down the street to try to get some tea from Lennart. He was up but after waiting for 10 minutes outside his unit I decided that he was not coming out and went back to my unit to do this diary and checked my office e-mails. Li Gang was supposed to come over at 8:30 so we could have some breakfast together and we could go to Jenny Lu’s for groceries. He showed up at about 10:00 and made arrangements for local taxi to take me to and from Jenny Lu’s for 15 RMB. I was able to stock up on groceries but the driver complained that I took too long and wanted another 20 RMB. It was not worth a fight and I wanted to focus on cleaning up the glass casts that were done for me by the students at Tsing Hua University last year, which Li Gang had delivered to me that morning. They came out different than I expected.

It is painstaking detail work and must be done carefully because glass is very fragile. My model had many undercuts. Eventually I found that a brush used to clean dishes with water, along with some thin but strong wire for the very hard to get to places, which seemed to work the best. Li Gang and his assistant invited me to join them for a lunch made at his studio of Chinese noodles, with a soy and lamb paste, along with some tomatoes and eggs. I then went back to work on the glass castings. I began to tire, started to make mistakes and was getting cut in the process. So I took a nap.

I awoke to go to a dinner party at the Swedish Consulate. There was a show for local Chinese artists, including Li Gang and a number of other artists who I knew. Ironically, almost all of them lived on the same street within SAC. At first, we were the only people at the party but eventually other people showed up. Some old friends and acquaintances showed up, including Lennart and his new assistant. Apparently, his partnership with Li Gang in the 2 Lines Gallery was in the process of winding down. He was looking for a new partner in the gallery in 798 and Li Gang had already opened a new gallery in the new complex we had seen the other night. The hosts did a beautiful job. There was an excellent bar and loads of Swedish delicacies, both as appetizers and as main courses. I was told by the Chinese that they do not like cold food.

At the party I also met Li Tianyuan and his wife who were planning on a trip to New York City for an opening at the China District Art Gallery in Chelsea on June 14. They were staying for a week. He uses old masters as a base for his inclusion of modern ideas. It is an interesting concept. I was returning on June 16, so we made tentative plans to try to get together on my return. We left the party at 11:30p.m. I was dog tired.

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© Copyright 2015
Charles Hecht