Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self. - Cyril Connolly
Friday, October 26, 2007
The China Chronicles - Modern Art and the Dirt Market
OK, this will be a post of contrasts. I'm gonna start with fine art, discuss the wonders of dried Tiger Penis, and leave you with the world's largest LCD screen, so pay attention.

China has heavily been promoting its modern art in the last few years. With the Chinese having more disposable income, investing in art is suddenly an investment option that didn't previously exist. Recent art auctions in Honk Kong, Sotheby's in London, and NYC have seen Chinese artists fetching prices previously unheard of in China, and topping $1 million.

Nowhere is this movement more visible, than in the Area 798 art complex in the Dashanzi Art District of east Beijing in the Chaoyang District, just south of our apartment. The area is fairly recent. Artists were relocated and concentrated into Bauhaus architecture unwittingly provided by semi-defunct military-equipment factories which were designed by architects from East Germany in the 1950s.

Over the past three or four years, Dashanzi has emerged as the SoHo of Beijing's art scene.

To even conceive of an area like this after the Cultural Revolution suppressed all artists and intellectuals for so many years, is really amazing in itself.

Entrance to Area 798

Entrance to Area 798

Anybody Home?

Anybody Home?

Self Contemplation

Man Pondering Self

We also went to a special Art Exhibition that they had that weekend for Artwalk. It was supposed to be a collection of the best that Beijing galleries had to offer, and it was held in the Agricultural Exhibit Hall north of where I was staying. It did not disappoint:

Here's Johnny!!

Here's Johnny!

If I remember correctly, this piece was making a statement about the artist's parents who were killed in the Cultural Revolution. Either way, I'm guessing it's not complimentary to the government in general.

Making a Statement

This was my favorite installation piece. It's a satire on the new CCTV Tower going up in downtown Beijing. An architectural marvel, it will rival the Sydney Opera House for an iconic symbol in years to come. I'll post pictures of the real thing later, but this piece is constructed entirely of eggshells, on a glass box, with hard stones underneath and broken eggshells all around.


Outside of the exhibit, I was stopped by a Chinese journalist and interviewed for an article on the exhibit. It was for a Chinese language newspaper, so I don't know if it ever made the light of day, and if it did, I can't read it. I was very complimentary to both the quality, variety and quantity of exhibits and galleries. I encouraged them to do it a lot more often - it was a really wonderful thing. There was a great gift shop where I was able to stock up on lots of mementos for the many artists in my family.

Earlier in the day, in fact most of the afternoon, we had spent perusing the notorious Panjiyuan, or "Dirt Market" of Beijing. The Dirt Market (so named after it's original location on a dirt lot) can only be described as most things in Beijing are - immense. It was easily the largest open air flea market I had ever been too. After four hours, I think we covered about a third of it - maybe half.

Open only on Saturdays and Sundays, you can literally find anything here if you look hard enough: Mao posters, porcelain, beads, trinkets, furniture, postcards, old cameras, you name it - it's here. I also saw enough parts of endangered species to occupy their own zoo.

Buyer beware however. If you don't know what you're doing, buying anything here is fraught with risk. Especially if you're buying "antiques". For that very reason, I stuck to things that were more straightforward and tried to steer clear of anything I didn't understand enough to appreciate (which was most everything).

It's big - I couldn't begin to get it all in one photo:

The Beijing Dirt Market

And yes, that large paw in the foreground below is a tiger paw. I saw a lot of these. They were mostly in the Tibetan stalls around the fringe of the Market. The Tibetans were largely "tolerated" by the other Chinese. There was a definite class/race thing going on with respect to their presence.

Tibetan Stall with Tiger Paw

If you think the tiger paw is bad, the dried, leathery, ropey looking item in the front below is a dried Tiger penis. I saw plenty of them. They are considered the Viagra of the East when you grind it up and sprinkle it in your tea. No wonder they are endangered. On another note, you'll notice the head of the penis is barbed like a pine cone. Most male feline reproductive organs carry this feature to ensure that they are the only father involved- if you know what I mean. Reluctant female tigers could be another reason for the species being on the brink of extinction. Ouch.

Tiger Penis anyone?

The market is "organized" as much as possible, by the types of items sold, so....

Beautiful hair calligraphy and paint brushes:

Calligraphy Brush Market

Antique brass pots and incense burners.

Antique Brass Pots and Incense Burners

We left the Dirt Market laden with our prizes and headed to the Art Walk. The weather began to turn, and we went to the apartment to drop off our treasures. It looked as if it was going to storm any minute, so we ended up going to a new, VERY modern pedestrian mall near the apartment called "The Palace" which has the largest LCD Screen in the world as a canopy over it. 6,000 square meters of video goodness. I didn't take my camera to dinner, but I don't think I could have adeqautely captured the awesomeness of this thing. Go to the link and watch the video and see the photos - it's a very cool thing.

We had dinner at an amazingly large buffet restaurant which had food stations from all over the world. I tempted fate by eating the largest raw oysters I had ever seen. I know, eating raw oysters at a buffet in China is just asking for food poisoning, but these things were amazing.

It was pouring rain when we left the restaurant, so we hired a rickshaw driver to take us home. Poor guy really struggled with two, tall Western women in the cab. Lucky for him we tipped well.

Tomorow: The one, the only, The Great Wall of China.
posted by Broadsheet @ 11:28 AM  
3 Editorial Opinions:
  • At October 27, 2007, Anonymous youngest sister said…

    Amazing, all of it. I know I shouldn't say this as an art historian but I'm not sure which I liked better, the contemporary art or that amazing flea market. There wasn't a booth or two with textiles was there? (hint, hint)

  • At October 27, 2007, Blogger Broadsheet said…

    Don't worry sis - I got you covered, but you're going to have to wait till Xmas to claim your prizes. If you thought this market was good - wait till I post the photos from the bizaars in Kashgar and Urumqi!

  • At August 25, 2008, Blogger R. Schwendeman said…

    Great photos of the weekend market!Especially the photos of the calligraphy brushes and the antique brass urns (which unfortunatey are not antique though.. But heck, they look cool)
    Head over to our blog for some more on
    The Weekend Market in Beijing

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