Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Bananas and Monkey, Stripes and Sequins.

Prada Spring Summer 2011 show in Beijing. Not just any ordinary trunk show, (the Show was in Milan in the Fall)but Prada's special version for Beijing. Exclusively. I love that last year I was in Korea for the Transformer and this time in Beijing to see a show. What vision.

On a very cold Saturday night, Beijing descended upon the new CAA, Centre for Art. One is greeted with an organised queue, not the kind of riot you see at fashion weeks in the fashion capitals, then a corridor of bright green palm trees (it was -10 degrees celsius)and followed by a cameraman . . . every step of the way, not had that before, a man, literally, shadowing my every step.

Once inside you are greeted with people, dressed in black, fur, coats, Prada and an air of anticipation in a dimly-lit museum foyer.

Arnold lit the space, by that, I thought he meant the show, what he meant was he transformed the normally neon space into a glowing interior with brighter coloured lights shining through at certain points in space.

Stephanie and I followed Arnold to see the pre-show set up. The set was identical to the show in Milan. Prada had literally rebuilt everything.

After more drinks downstairs, we climbed up the ramp to the show. The little orange plastic seats made me think of big football pitches and the tremendous lights that shine on it . . . there had to be connection.

After a wait, in this case for the ravishing Gong Li to arrive . . . the show started with a brightly clad model . . . all sharp lines, bright colours . . .classically sporty and minimal yet so quirky. The music which accompanied this suggested as much the colours a throw back to exotic Mexican, Latino vibes and the jungle, the monkey clasp on the purses an exotic tough. Then the banana print blouses. My fave look was the neon sequined stripe dress with the platform brogues, silver platformed brogues with pink rubber and rope braid. It was such FUN. So noncholant . . the boys too in the same brogues, bags with the varsity logo. The bits I also loved were the striped sombreros and fur stoles. Then there was that added maximalist quirkiness. The looks felt a bit toned down but we were informed before that they were specially made for China and would be available the next day - China-wide.

my fave look
It was like they were walking on the panels that enclose those giant neon lights. It was an ELECTRIC show.

Going back down stairs to dinner (I loved the mud chicken - chicken wrapped in leaves and buried in mud), I realised that it was seamless, the look, the feel. . . tropical cococabana meets Mexicana in a high tech super future rave set at a neon lit football pitch with monkeys in the audience throwing bananas and perfectly coiffed 1950's socialites laughing away. Litteraly, the place felt like this though the blasts of mega freezing cold air destroyed this illusion from time to time.
mud chicken

Then the next moment we were all waiting for. . . The Petshop Boys. So appropriate, so Prada - quite amazing that aesthetically, it felt completely compatible. The colours, the vibes. A slick, quirky, geeky camp-as-hell performance. I loved it.

A bit cliched but really, Go West with Chinese Gymnasts in the background was tremendous. So glad they are still around, a revival! And the crowd DANCED.

Go West
New York City Boy
King of Rome
Mrs Prada

After-party and more drinks, lofting around and taking it all in. I loved bumping into the Thai crew :), Ed and Victoria Tang who I had not seen in AGES and also making some new friends.

I was completely mesmerised by the graphics on the huge screen, by 2 by 4 from london, genius coming to life of the show's moodboard . . .seamless editting of Josphephine Baker, the Caribbeans, the three Caballeros, Prada models dancing and being a bit sily in a very strong graphic manner. Fab. The dj who spun as this visual feast went on was this guy Dan Lywood that Jan Kennedy brought from London, what he played went perfectly with that moving moodboard. I loved it.

I thought the night would end when the lights came on and but as we were getting into the car, Sebastian was leaving too and there I was confronted with whether to retire or stay out . . .and seeing as Beijing is just so HOT, I went along with Sebastian, the Prada crew and Mrs. Prada herself (she is an amazing, an amazing woman) to another new Beijing hot spot - D-lounge.

What fun . . .what a weekend . . . Maison Boulud recovery with Carol, Arnold and Alan Yau then off back to Bkk.

As Ed Tang said, thank you Prada for bringing us all together.

What next . . .I just hope those silver brogues are available soon . . . :)

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

798 Art Zone, Beijing

Low and behold, there is a cool contemporary side to Beijing . . . this was confirmed by a visit to the 798 Art Zone. I was not quite sure what to expect. Stephie warned me that it is not like Chelsea in NY nor the Design District of Miami and has become very commercial. It was exactly that, a lovely commercial art district with numerous galleries, an industrial complex of ex-factories, Soviet built, Chinese run, a sturdy compound of bricks, pipes and unmistakably sturdy interiors. That was cool.

red dinosaurs by resident artist

The scene stealer and highlight was the Ullens Contemporary Centre for Contemporary Art.

The Ullens are big collectors, I was only familiar with their name being associated to a beautiful sailboat that was in Venice at the Biennale last year and also recognised them to be big big patrons of art, the biggest collectors of Chinese art nonetheless. Their art centre was well worth the trip, the head curator there is none other than Jerome Sans and for me, he managed to strike a great balance between slightly low brow hype which is very accessible to the young fickle generation, something a bit in between, and then last but not least one of the most substantial and holistic solo shows I have seen in a long time. He then managed to make all these shows sit together and work together. In truth, I know very little about Chinese art, sure I am familiar with the masters like Cai Quigong and the new guard comprised of Cao Fei and Yang Fudong, that is quite limited so getting thrown in deep at 798 and particularly at the UCCA was a great introduction.

First room by Yang Yong titled Lightscape reminded me of what Urs Fischer did for PPR last year in Venice, cool, fun, lights with pics of fashion, fast life, luxury. Good looking hype that touches upon and comments on the new generation of materialist superficial chinese (the world) obsessed with gloss. It was definitely good looking but too disposable and trendy for my taste, which was probably the point!

The next was room was interesting and guest curated by Rong Rong, Qui and Ren Hang's Inner Ear. Contrasting 2 photographers one from the rural contryside showing rural Chinese life, the other a Beijing hipster who explores eroticism and urban life. The contrast was great . . . on their own they might too fashion-like where you have young photoraphers referencing Araki or Cartier-Bresson but put in this context of modern China and placed next to each other it had weight and relvance.
The next room was interesting, another contemporary Chinese master, Ling Jian's Moon in Glass. Beautiful chinese women in mirrors reflected off mirrors. I liked it, though it feels pop-like the theme was interesting and that whole Dorian Gray thing going on, reflections, moonlight, highlights. . .tears and smiles . . . things not as they seem.

Last but not the least, a show commissioned by Jerome Sans and designed specifically for the Centre by Liu Xiaodong, called Hometown Boy. The museum officer did good to force me to enter the right way as it was truly a journey. The show is by one of the most prolific of Chinese contemproary artists. I did not realise this till much later. What I did realise and appreciate from early on was his thought process and his sincerity. The fact the as an artist he acknowledges the conflict between expressing himself as an artist and being a professional artist how the paradox exists. The show was about his homecoming. After 30 years, he decided to go home, a rural China which is far removed from the fast life of Beijing and everywhere else he presides as a very famous individual in the art community. He wanted to go back to capture moments, his past and what to him is a China which is disappearing.

The way the show started with extensive diary entries and pics, from the initiation of the project and his talks with Jerome Sans to the end. We are invited to go with him through time, it was like reading his script for Hometown Boy.

In a way it was a script, as for him as a painter, he painted throughout his friends and family iconic Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien godfather of Taiwanese indemependent cinema and a prolific filmmaker documented the process. There are layers and we were invited to join the show and become an audience before the "show" (film) even started.

It was walls after walls of sincere anecdotes, pictures, and thoughts. One reaches the last picture, the last day at home where Liu is pictured with his parents, their dog and contemplates preparing to grow old in the way that his parents have.

We then see character studies where he draws his friends in a in few phrases comments on their qualities, their uniqueness. It was lovely.

The black walls then open up to vast space with high ceilings, the "script" becomes paintings.

Liu captures a moment in time, freezing it forever but having shown us the story before. What was refreshing was that the paintings were beautiful, classical in composition, modern in technique and contemporary in its feeling. He has a cute voice, sensitive and but cheeky and not for a moment condescending. It felt the whole way that he was in touch, there is a sadness but an appreciation. Not for a second does the nostalgia feel forced.

Home, 2010

Next, the documentary . . . by this point, in my mind I had accepted that Liu is able to use different mediums to create his own world, perhaps what Jerome Sans says is true, he approaches art as a filmmaker, yet, he is a painter, that is what he does, he has left the filmmaking to a filmmaker. I love that this is possible, he admits that as a painter he captures a single dimension, one angle but in cinema, you can capture almost all.
My Egypt, 2010

Until that day I had not heard of Hou Hsiao-Hsien, I did not know how famous he was or what he had done, what I did know was that the documentary I watched felt like he captured not only what Liu talked painted but real life. It was that other dimension that Liu mentioned at the beginning of hte film. It felt seamless. I really loved how the paintings literally came to life and you see the longing, the sadness, the hope, quite simply a glimpse into the daily lives of a group of people dear to the artist, of whom he believes will be left behind as China's past as the country goes through speedy urbanisation. The music used to accompany the story was classical . . .fitting, as it gave it a certain grandeur, the dialogue natural and I liked the faded tinted shots that were interspersed throughout to give it a feeling of a fading world, but a valuable one at least for the artist. It was hard to believe that in some parts that the documentary was made last year and not 50 years ago.

What then happened to me was that the documentary made me go back to"watch" the paintings again, at least now that I know who some of the people are more. The oil on canvas becoming more than just paintings but life, captured in time.

The UCCA was not all, the Zone, like all of Beijing is large - what I was curious to see was some of the big galleries with the blue chip work. There were other smaller galleries around the palce but they felt derivative and I guess a bit commercial.

Originality Square
I liked Faurschou Gallery that had an exhibition curated by Jeffrey Deitch with 3 big American artists paying tribute to the BIG American painting. David Salle, the late Robert Rauchenberg and Micahel Belvilacqua.

Next was Continua Gallery, a cheeky show by Nedko Solokov.

All in all the fact that it exists, 798 is evidence of a market for art that exists and an indication that truly, this is just the beginning. For such a tightly controlled country, the fact that this market should be able to exist, let alone grow sheds light on Chinese pragmatism (Stephanie's theory but she has her whole team at HSBC in corporate banker is only none Chinese person there). They are able to see that the "market" for Art is big and not only that but a very lucrative one. It is also those weird markets that have very little relation to reality and a piece of work can be priced just so because the people who drive market say so. So if one is pragmatic then will realise that if he can create then control and drive the market, he will be rewarded. Unfortunately what this has also created is very commercial hype, the recession a few years back highlighted the real deal and the derivatives so at least there is some balance. On the other hand, one can see it as the country actively investing to improve and develop, to own for themselves these fragments of frozen time if one believes that art captures certain moments it time, it freezes it, there is value in itself..

Liu raises this point about art for the community and the art market, the value of art in itself and the monetary value. In Hometown Boy, he is painting his old friends and family, he is a professional artist and those paintings are worth something in the market. He explained that he did not want to "use" his friends and his home as he is a professional artist, he raises this paradox between art and the art market. He then goes on to explain that his friends do not feel this way, that they are being used for commercial gain that hey are happy to contribute, to spend time with HIM even if it meant sitting for him. They are removed from the art market and to them, Liu's art means that he is working, happy and they get to spend time with him. I wonder if life in China, despite its hardships and poverty can continue to be so simple.

Many questions . . . not many answers, was completely inspired by what I saw.

My introduction to this side of Beijing would be further explored that night at the Prada show where the new Beijing would come out in full force.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Beijing is HOT . . .

even at a constant -10 degrees celsius. By "hot" I mean that it is sizzling and exciting, some of that hype about China in all fairness, is well-deserved, it was to me, what I expected and more.

The Prada SS '11 show in Beijing was my reason to visit the Chinese capital, a perfect little excuse provided by my friend Sebastian Suhl of Prada who invited me and also Arnold Chan, my mentor the lighting guru. A long overdue visit as well to old friends. The Prada extravaganza was on Saturday and was to comprise of show, dinner and a concert, more on that later. Before Prada, I already had my hitlist of to do's given to me by Stephanie Betant and old friend who is living there and LUXE Beijing guide (perfect for a short city trip, I managed to Sharpie dot many places on the guide).

First lesson re Beijing is that everyone seems mean and rough but actually they are not, they are nice and have a bit of a sense of humour. It sounds like they are complainign but they are not and once you get used to the tone, the beauty of the Mandarin language is revealed.

My first place to visit was the Forbidden City.

frozen moat

This is where the emperors, empresses, concubines and eunuchs spent their days. It is grand. Full stop. The vision the emperors had back then was spectacular, almost crazy. The attention to detail, the grandess, the stories and the rituals. My talking GPS guide was extremely useful.

This is the house where the last emperor Pu Yi studied. These are the inner courts, the inner life of the palace, you can almost imagine everyone in their outfits a la Xang Yimou's Hero dancing in silk with swords. Surreal.

where Emperor Pu Yi went to school
hill of accumulated grace

I visited where the Empress used to hang out and gossip with the court ladies. There was one Empress who was extremely clever and she managed to get her son to succeed to become emperor and effectively was the force behind a certain era. It was in Hall of Balance and Equality that she used to hold her court.

Empress style

There is a hall where the emperor and his empress would be locked in over 3 nights on the night of their wedding.

The most spectacular of the them all is the Hall of Supreme Harmony. . . this is the grandest of them all and where the Emperor would hold court and discuss affairs of the state, later on it was the ceremonial hall used for weddings and coroniations. This was also where emperor Pu Yi was coronated when he was merely three years old. Apparently the grandeur of it all terrified him and he burst into tears. He father soothed him by saying, do not worry, it will be over soon. Well, there might have been somethign prophetic about that as Pu Yi was the Last Emperor.
Hall of Supreme Harmony

Let's face it though, the Palace and the Forbidden City symbolises a China of myths and legends and in the way that it was been preserved especially as a World Heritage site should be informing the new generation fo China of the power that China once was and is perhaps a little glimpse as to what it could be. Amazing preservation of history and curiousity of it considering they were so good at eradicating it all.

Upon exiting the Palace you get the Gate of Tiananmen, and then a spectacular setting with Mao in his full glory still with guards surrounding his image and just across the street was Tiananmen Square. In its full glory.

Goosebump material.

I found myself after my 4 hour walk for food, I ended up at a Peking Duck institution having steamed duck as Peking Duck was on the menu for the evening. I also managed to find Capital M, part of a chain of restaurants that exists also in Shanghai and in Hong Kong, lovely view, rather nice space and yummy Ginger Toddy.

I had to get the subway back to the hotel as traffic in Beijin is just silly. I was not prepared for the rush of people. How many people live in the city becomes clear when you get into the train. Terribly efficient though.

Dinner was at Duck de Chine . . . Peking Duck in a lowly lit sexy space in a courtyard. Trust my friend Stephanie to pick the "it" spot that also has great food.

We then fought the cold to the Apothecary where I bumped into my friend Carol who I was suppose dot meet up wiht anyway. So for as big and sprawling a metropolis as Beijing is, it's rather small. Love it. This was my classical red hot itinerary, the next day would be another side of Beijing.