Friday, January 02, 2009

Mahjong at BAM

I got a good start on one of my 2009 resolutions by visiting the Berkeley Art Museum (BAM) today. We caught the last days of Mahjong, Contemporary Chinese Art from the Sigg Collection. It was a spur of the moment visit as our other plans were canceled due to rain.
In 141 works by ninety-six artists, the exhibition Mahjong: Contemporary Chinese Art from the Sigg Collection represents the historical span of art from the 1970s to today in China and demonstrates the dramatic evolution that has occurred, with artists exploring new materials and concepts far from what might have been imagined by even the most clairvoyant. As Chinese art emerged from the boundaries of state-sponsored and state-defined aesthetics to the complex initiatives of individuals with new intentions and motivations, it is possible to see the growth and development not only of art but of a nation.
My family had a lively discussion after the visit. We all agreed on our least favorite piece. A scroll painted in menstrual blood. I could not read the Han characters. They meant nothing to me.

It was interesting to visit a show where much of the writing was in Chinese Han characters, but they were not translated, so some of the meaning was lost. It was later, during our discussion, when I realized my son and his fiancee could read the symbols. They were able to help me understand the meaning behind some of the more esoteric installations.

My favorite was a large infrared picture of Shanghai, China, 15–16 October 2004 by Shi Guorui. Partly because of visited the spot myself, and partly because the size of the picture and its scope draws you into the image. I also found Dialog, another work by Guorui, subversive and hilarious.

So, one museum down, eleven to go.
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