"Duck Tongues” from China

With a prestigious grant from the Asian Cultural Council, Hammer adjunct curator  James Elaine moved to China in April 2008 to seek out emerging artists within China and throughout Asia. This blog provides a fascinating insight into Jamie’s travels and the art world in China.

"Duck Tongues" from China

China has many sayings comparing the world above to the one below, such as: “Above you have heaven, below you have Suzhou and Hangzhou; two magnificently beautiful areas not too far from Shanghai.” Another saying goes like this: “The best meat above is dragon meat, the best below is donkey.” Although I came to China to research the art scene I cannot separate anything here from the social importance of eating and drinking together. Many galleries have their own cooks who prepare lunchtime meals for the staff and guests. I’ve seen many stores with a wok — either inside by the front door or outside on the sidewalk — stir-frying vegetables and meats and all sorts of other things. In less than two weeks time since I first arrived I have probably consumed a month’s worth of the best and (sometimes) the strangest food I have ever tasted. I am not going to read you off a list of the different types of foods or different parts of animals I have eaten, but I find myself eating everything offered to me and eating it with relish. And, yes, I have eaten donkey…more than once! It is delicious and must be as good as or better than dragon. And yesterday I ate a duck’s head. It was so good that I want to return to the same restaurant soon to eat another one. Maybe I should call this introductory blog “Duck Tongues” from China? (Thanks to Gary G. for the original idea).

I am not sure if there is a saying about art from above and art from below but I have started looking around for one. In the west we get a standardized version of the Chinese art world. The Chinese art world, though, is changing fast and new generations of artists are coming of age in China with new visions and new ambitions. When Annie and I moved to Los Angeles from New York in 1999 we felt we were moving to the Wild West where things impossible in NY to achieve were still possible on west coast. It was really an exciting time in Los Angeles. Now almost 10 years later I find myself in yet another exciting world and I think it is safe to say that China is truly the new Wild West where anything is possible and can happen over night.

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Tags: China, James Elaine