A changing China on view in New York art show

A woman walks past an exhibit during the “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World” media preview at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York on October 5. (AFP)
Updated 07 October 2017
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A changing China on view in New York art show

NEW YORK: A generation of artists deeply marked by the Tiananmen Square massacre, globalization and the liberalization of China’s economy is at the heart of a new exhibition at New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
The period bookended by Tiananmen (1989) and the 2008 Beijing Olympics witnessed what the museum’s senior curator for Asian art Alexandra Munroe called “the greatest transformations in the lives of 1.3 billion people ever experienced in such a short span in all reported human history.”
Radical socioeconomic and geopolitical changes experienced in such a short period of time could only be brutal.
“Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World,” which opened Friday and runs until January 7, “helps us understand the human impact of those changes,” Munroe said, insisting it was not a comprehensive survey of Chinese contemporary art.
She organized the show along with Chinese contemporary art experts Philip Tinari of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing and Hou Hanru, artistic director of Rome’s MAXXI museum.
What the 71 featured artists and collectives filling most of the museum and its spiral structure “show us about their society and about ours is not always pretty,” noted museum director Richard Armstrong.
Many of the works have express political messages in the face of an authoritarian regime, created by artists often living and working outside of China.
Liu Zheng’s poignant photographic prints show Chinese people on the margins of the race to economic development, while Wu Shanzhuan’s “Today No Water” series plays with the bureaucratic language of state communications.
The most spectacular work is Chen Zhen’s giant “Precipitous Parturition,” a dragon hung above the museum’s rotunda whose body is made of intricately women bicycle inner tubes with toy cars inside, reflecting China’s transformation from a nation of bicycles to a nation of cars.
But “it would be a misunderstanding of this exhibition to see it solely through the lens of politics,” Munroe stressed.
“It’s the lens of life, chaos, globalization, neoliberalism.”
The show also explores the West’s view of China and its art, the influence of man on his environment and the presence of a looming nuclear threat.
But long before the opening, three of the pieces due to be shown sparked waves of protests — both in public and on social media. Ultimately and suddenly, the museum pulled the works citing unspecified “explicit and repeated threats of violence” to its staff.
But the decision also cut short an opportunity for public debate about morality and contemporary art.
Huang Yong Ping’s “Theater of the World” — an enclosure of insects and reptiles vying for dominance — was installed without live creatures.
During a September interview with Artnet, Munroe had bluntly suggested that “if you can’t survive” the piece, “don’t bother seeing the rest of the show.”
A video featuring two pigs mating — their bodies temporarily tattooed by Xu Bing with Chinese characters and Roman letters — was pulled, along with another by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu showing dogs trained to fight instead strapped to treadmills facing each other in pairs in a fruitless struggle.
Both videos document past performances.
Armstrong regretted that the works were pulled “before the public could consider what they say and why they had to be made in a certain way to say it.”
Munroe called it “perhaps the most painful decision in the history of the Guggenheim museum.”
“We hope that this controversy, which is in fact a fascinating controversy and a very timely one, can help the art world and our wider public — including this rather ferocious online community — to perhaps come together and to heal a divide that clearly needs to be healed,” she added.


Like a Berber: Madonna celebrates 60th birthday in Marrakech

Updated 19 August 2018
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Like a Berber: Madonna celebrates 60th birthday in Marrakech

  • The Queen of Pop donned the attire of a “Berber Queen” in Marrakech on her birthday
  • On Sunday, the American star posted pictures and videos on her Instagram of a fun photo shoot with British-Moroccan artist Hassan Hajjaj

JEDDAH: Madonna’s 60th birthday celebrations are creating quite a buzz, especially delighting her Arab fans that she chose to mark the milestone in Morocco.
The Queen of Pop donned the attire of a “Berber Queen” in Marrakech on her birthday, wearing a fuchsia chiffon long-sleeved gown by Gucci with Berber jewelry and a headpiece by Marianna Harutunian.
On Sunday, the American star posted pictures and videos on her Instagram of a fun photo shoot with British-Moroccan artist Hassan Hajjaj, known as the “Andy Warhol of Marrakech.” Madonna, who posed for pictures with her family, is seen dressed in a traditional red attire, accessorized with colorful jewelry and a Louis Vuitton headscarf.
“Life can be sweet and sour and sometimes a surprise can happen that you never would think of and this was one of (those) moments; want to thank Madonna and her lovely family and being patient for the shoot at my riad,” Hajjaj wrote on Instagram.
Hashtagged #birthday #magic #Marakesh, Madonna’s pictures have gone viral on social media since she first posted a portrait of herself bedecked in Berber jewelry and brandishing a sign that reads “The Queen.” She wrote: “Finally and at last it’s my birthday! I have survived! Life is beautiful!”
On the eve of the big day, she toured the former imperial city of Morocco under the close watch of the paparazzi and wrote: “Walking through the Labyrinth of the Medina during the Call to Prayer.” She posted a video shot at night, wandering in the alleys of the city’s ancient market.
“Mystical walk through the desert,” she captioned a photo featuring her in the desert, with six horsemen holding candles in the background.
Another portrait shows Madonna wearing a fez decorated with Berber jewelry, along with a caption reading: “Today I am wearing CAKE on my head!“
Known for repeatedly reinventing herself during her 35-year pop career, Madonna has been staying at the luxury palace-turned-hotel El Fenn, owned by the sister of British billionaire Richard Branson, Vanessa. The property has been redecorated and staff have had their smart phones confiscated to protect the privacy of Madonna and her guests. The birthday guest list has also been kept secret, and Moroccan police were keeping journalists and photographers at bay.
Guests reportedly dressed in traditional Bedouin garb for the Arabian-themed party featuring Berber music. According to the Mirror, Indian designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee designed kaftans and Berber costumes for them.
Agence France-Presse reported a local photographer as saying that he had spotted Madonna wearing a veil covering the hair and face but for the eyes. She reportedly visited the five-star Kasbah Agafay spa, went shopping at a souk and enjoyed a camel trek in the desert.
Local media reported that she and around 15 friends had dined out at a restaurant in western Morocco, escorted by bodyguards and under police surveillance.
Taking to social media under the hashtag #MadonnaAt60, fans from across the world sent birthday wishes to the pop diva. Since her first, eponymous album came out in 1983, Madonna has sold more than 300 million records, with albums such as “True Blue,” “Like a Prayer” and “Ray of Light” topping music charts around the world.