Charles Hecht

China Diary #12

Day 1

The Continental flight left on time, was smooth, arrived on time and the luggage was available right after I cleared customs and exchanged dollars for RMB. I got the usual reaction of disappointment from the taxi driver when I told him that we were going to Beigau. Apparently they wait for a long period of time in the hope of getting someone who wants to go from the airport to downtown. I promised to pay him 60 RMB and we made my normal stop at Jenny Lus to buy what I needed for breakfast, wine and cheese.

The house was locked up and I could not find the keys to the owner’s closet. I could not get it unlocked. I had given Mung money before I left to replace or fix the lock, assuming she was conscientious, I called her to explain the situation. She was over in five minutes and had apparently put the keys to the new lock in a special place. Although she prepared to house for my arrival, she also did a lot more work on the glass sculptures that were delivered during my absence. We then hung up a grouping of five red and yellow spermoids from one of the small molds.

We then hung up an installation of three red glass sculptures from the Chinese Dragons series next to that installation.

I completed Smash #2 and then decided that it was not right. There were too few pieces of glass and I did not like the organization of the glass pieces on the yellow background. I started to work on the base for the next sculpture in the Smash series. I thought a blue base would work better with the two sculptures, one of which was damaged in shipment back from the Sheng Sheng and the other which I did not like the shape of the tail. Since Peter Lewis, the curator of the show at the Sheng Sheng, was paid so little and put in so much work for all the aggravation of curating a show of that size, I refused to take him up on his obligation to pay for this sculpture’s destruction and accepted his offer to give me one of his works on paper as payment. Just before I left for Beijing, Peter’s acrylic on paper arrived at my home in New York City. I really like it and will have it framed when I get back to the United States.

It would take some time to get used to the latest group of sculptures which I was viewing for the first time in their finished state. I liked the series of three blue-and-white small spermoids.

I also liked the eight sculptures that I had decided to have as installations in the office area of the first floor of the Beijing studio. I was undecided about the others. I was too tired to go out to dinner so I had a glass of wine and went to sleep fairly early.

Day 2

It was a very bright and sunny day. The shower was cold, but it was better than no shower at all. Then the water stopped. After breakfast I called Abraham and asked him if he was having a problem with the water in his studio. He said that a few days ago the management had told everyone that there would be no water on this day.

I did some work on my new woodcut, which I tentatively titled “Cultural Togetherness.” I quickly realized that the correct chisel was not available in my studio so I called Huang to see if he could drive me to the art stores across from the Central Academy. He was available and I was able to find the correct chisel, bought some more acrylics and two more wood boards to use as a background for more of the smash series. One of my favorite large red Chinese Dragon series had a small crack. Mung and I had tried to see if we could hand sand out this crack, but it was much deeper than I thought. So this is now a candidate for my Smash series. It may work very well with a gold background.

By the time I was done with the errands, it was lunchtime. I decided to go to the local restaurant to get take out. Although it was only 12:20 PM, the lunch crowd had left and the owner was playing cards with the staff. They could not locate the menu that had some English translations and didn’t particularly care to take a break from the card game. I suggested that I look into the kitchen to see what was available so that they could make up one or two dishes that I could take home. That was a mistake. As is typical of most small Chinese restaurants, there is no refrigeration. The few vegetables they had looked tired and dirty. I decided to ask Huang to drive me to Jinbanwei and we would have lunch together.

After a nice nap, I did some more work on my “Cultural Togetherness” woodcut and on more of the Smash series of glass on wood board.

I then went downtown to meet with the shipper for dinner to pick up my replacement train ticket to Zibo. The food was very ordinary and we sat in the smoking section because Molly smokes. After dinner, it was pouring. When it rains in Beijing it is really fierce. Getting a cab was not easy. We waited for over half an hour at the restaurant entrance. I dropped Molly off even though she lived very near the restaurant. You can really hear the pounding of the rain on the plastic skylights of the studio. It was difficult to read so I focused on doing more of the woodcut and preparing boards for more of the smash series. I was able to speak to Leslie on Skype, but with the pounding of the rain, I had difficulty falling asleep.

Day 3

The water was back on and I had a nice hot shower. It felt great. After breakfast I did some work on the computer to solve some problems back in New York City. I then took my electric bicycle and decided to ride around the area to see who was in and what was going on. Judas Arenis’ studio was open but he was not there. There were two Spanish artists who were living in Judas Arenis’ studio on some type of a residency program. There were two delivery bicycles in the studio. On one of them there were two logs placed along the sides of the wagon component and four pieces of wood with different diameters perpendicular to and resting on the logs. I asked them what this was for. They each had two sticks and started to hit the four cross pieces in a musical duet. It was quite cool.

I then went to Shen Jingdong’s studio. He showed me his new works and we discussed the three pieces that I had recently purchased. He wanted to see my new glass work so we went over to my studio for tea. I wanted to give the local restaurant a second chance. There was still no menu with any English, as the one that they previously had was either destroyed or could not be located. I was able to order a vegetable and some fried dish.

Trying to locate a portable propane gas torch unit was frustrating. I must have visited 40 stores in the industrial area. They either showed me a fire extinguisher or a welding torch connector unit, so I gave up. I then visited the metal fabricator. He was not there, so I visited with his wife and their nine month old baby. I asked her if he would call me back to discuss some future work. Every time I started to leave the baby would start to cry, so I came back and the crying stopped. This went on for six times until she was finally able to take the baby into the room next to the office. I then looked at some of the work in the yard, especially the bronze work near his new kiln. This new kiln was in sharp contrast to Li Gang’s decision to get out of the bronze foundry business. This is another example of the rapid changes going on within China. Li Gang had introduced me to Fang a number of years ago. This type of change is not publicized.

After a nice nap, I decided that I did not want dinner because I had no appetite. I also wanted to do some more work on sculptures or projects that I wanted to finish before leaving for Zibo. On my trip to the industrial park looking for the portable propane torch, I picked up a heavy sledge hammer, which I thought was better for smashing the glass sculptures that weren’t up to snuff. I smashed two blue-green and clear glass sculptures for the third piece in this series. The heavier sledgehammer does a much better job than my regular hammer.

Abraham Lubelski then came over and we had some wine and cheese. We discussed his views on the new Smash series and what he was up to. Christina and Malka were keeping him so busy that he was not able to focus on creating art. He was jealous of my privacy and that I had no distractions in Beijing. We also talked about the new glasswork which he liked and was impressed with “the body of work.” Next week three of my glass sculptures are going to be in his gallery in New York as part of a show being organized by Sharon Rosenfeld of the Lotos Club. Since I won’t be there, I trust that Abraham will hang them properly. He is very good at installing an installation.

Day 4

It was another bright and sunny day in Beijing. I was running out the right kind of epoxy to use for the new glass sculptures. An Internet search for a local supplier was unsuccessful. This would mean that when the sculptures came in from my upcoming visit to Aimei, Mung would not be able to insert the metal inserts into the bottom of the glass sculptures.

I went to Li Gang’s studio for lunch being cooked by his assistant. I met Luis, a Colombian artist who Li Gang had met during his internship in Korea. Gang’s best friend, Huang, had moved out of BIAC. Gang had lost total contact with him and blamed his new girlfriend. My thought was, who wears the pants in that family if this guy cannot even call his best friend to let him know where he now lives.

Li Gang decided they wanted to go to 798. I was thinking of a nap after a nice but very simple lunch. I ended up going 798. I bumped into Julia of Top Red Art, who I had previously called. She told me that she was accompanying a wealthy European collector for the entire day but if we happen to bump into each other in 798 that would be great. She introduced me to her client who seemed like a very nice person. He was telling me that he liked cutting edge art and Julia was more conservative. Julie said that she liked my art very much, but it was on the cutting edge and she was concerned that it would not appeal to her regular customers. She suggested that the collector look at my new glass series, which she really liked. I told them that many of the sculptures in that series are on a website, but the third group, which is at my studio, is not yet on my website. They were going to check out the website and Julia and I made arrangements for her to get access to the gallery while I am away in Shandong Province if she needed to show my work to him or any of her other clients.

We then wandered around 798, letting Li Gang choose the route since he was much more familiar with the better galleries and what each was showing than either Luis or myself. I then visited with a friend at Chinese Contemporary Art, Allessandra Henderson, and upon leaving that gallery bumped into Li Kogen, the contractor who built out my studio. He was with some of his workers as he was working on a job in 798. It was good to see him again. He is honest, hard-working and takes pride in his workmanship. After a brief conversation he went back to the job and we continued gallery hopping.

We took a second coffee break on a rooftop across from UCCA. The rooftop was built around two large trees. It was a very pretty setting, but since the waitress would only walk up the stairs with one cup at a time, the service was extremely slow.

We then visited some more galleries, one of which had shattered glass wall. The shattered glass wall was not part of the exhibit. Luis and Gang took a number of pictures of this wall from different angles, with interesting results.

After four hours of gallery viewing and two coffee breaks, I was ready to call it a day. Most of the galleries were closed by that time, so we got on our bikes and headed out; Gang to his own home and Luis and I back to our studios. It was already seven o’clock so Luis and I decided to find a place to eat. None of the restaurants near BIAC are very good or clean, so we took a ride through Sou Jao Sun to my old standby near the Pickled Arts Center. The village appears to be changing dramatically over the last three months with many buildings being torn down and lots of new construction. The roads, which weren’t good to start with, had deteriorated dramatically during this winter.

When we got to the area the restaurant was closed, but there appeared to be a very clean and larger restaurant that had just opened across the street. Luis and I decided to take a chance. I recognized the calligraphy on the wall as being a cleaned up version of a calligraphy in the original restaurant. The waitress advised me that an artist copied one of the calligraphy pieces for the new restaurant because the original piece had become both food stained and tired looking. It turned out that the restaurant that I liked had moved across the street to larger and cleaner quarters.

Luis has a Korean girlfriend who was living in New York City and had just gotten her green card. She was reluctant to move to Beijing. Luis figures that he has nine lives and wants to spend eight years in each location. He stayed in New York for nine years. Because he was unable to both work as a graphic artist for a post production company and do his art, it was time to move on to another city. So after doing some traveling, including an art internship in Korea where he met Li Gang, he now wants to live in Beijing for eight years. The type of work his girlfriend does is on a computer and she can work anywhere, but she was reluctant to come to Beijing because all of her friends were in New York City. Luis’ counterargument was that Beijing is a lot nearer Korea and her family than New York City, but she wasn’t buying it. However she was coming to Beijing in July for two weeks and maybe she would change her mind.

We also discussed some art concepts, including the importance of space in sculpture and in photography. Since he had just come to Beijing recently, he had lots of questions about the availability of facilities and people. I could answer some of the questions, but I told him that the real master was Li Gang, and that he was a big help to me in this regard and he would be a big help to him. On the way to the restaurant I noticed that the battery on my electric bicycle was losing its charge. I hoped I had enough charge left in the battery to get home after dinner. I got about halfway home and the battery went dead. Fortunately, it was a beautiful evening and I only had to pedal this 50 pound monster about 2 ˝ miles. I paid the price the next night when my legs cramped up in the hotel room in Boshan.

I checked my e-mails, did some work on the diary and went to sleep. On this trip I was able to figure out a way to listen to WQXR on the Internet with enough volume so I could enjoy the music. The volume was so good that I decided that I did not need to buy speakers for my computer while I was in Beijing. However, if I have a chance I will buy a printer. I still need to see things in printed form to feel comfortable reviewing and editing written materials.

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Copyright 2015
Charles Hecht