The flight over was uneventful except that the audio did not work. When I switched to my ipod, that was also dead. Sleeping for four hours I was unable to get back to sleep. A half hour of solitaire did not help. Fortunately, I had a good book to read. For some reason, my luggage was delayed, but it, along with about 10 other bags, came 15 minutes after everyone else’s. This time the cab driver followed my directions to take the Old Airport Expressway, which the locals call Jie Chang Gaosu #1.
I made my traditional stop at Jenny Lou’s for breakfast supplies and wine. I bumped into Brian McFarlane and he was totally disorganized and spaced out. Peter Lewis was meeting with some very important people involved with the upcoming Shanghai Exposition. He asked me if he could share my taxi, but wanted me to hurry with my shopping so he could get back right way. When I came out he was no longer there. Mung had been to my place, everything was pretty clean and the bed was made.
After everything was unpacked, I went for a walk around the compound and I bumped into Peter Lewis, Brian and a large Chinese contingent surrounding one man with a goatee. Peter was pressed for time so I said a brief hello to everyone, speaking briefly with Xaio Yan about her son and husband. I decided it was best to go on my way, as this was Peter’s show. But, Brian did not get the message.
When I returned to the studio, I spent time looking at the new sculptures. I was very pleased with most of them, but I could not locate my red , white and blue American Dream series. Only four sculptures were broken between the shipment from Aimei to Giant and then to my studio, and Mung’s finishing. Some of the pieces needed some more finishing, so I made arrangements with Mung to come over the following afternoon to do some housework and complete the finishing work.
I was told that there would be a tenants meeting at 7:00 pm to discuss the rent increase from .65 to .80 RMB per square meter per day. But, the .65 represented a government mandated reduction of .10 because the artists were adversely affected by the recession. This group was totally disorganized with everyone just complaining, with no one talking about a solution. Finally I put them on touch with Michael Liu, a Chinese lawyer who is very pragmatic. It was good to see a number of old friends even under these trying circumstances.
Peter called and wanted to come over to my studio to drink some wine and talk as the meeting with the Chinese had been very stressful. He liked the new glass sculptures - Series 5 - very much and asked me if the Oasis Gallery-Beijing could display three or four pieces for sale. We caught up with what has happened in the last few weeks in our lives and what was happening in Beijing. We agreed to meet for breakfast tomorrow morning to plan out my installation at the gallery. I then spent some time fixing the computer before going to bed.
Although Lau Shan had stopped by earlier and he said that my place would be good and warm it remained very cold throughout the night and I was too tired to look for the blankets. I woke up three or four times because I was so cold and getting muscle cramps in my legs. Finally, I managed to sleep through the night vowing to find and then buy more coal.
After a breakfast of scrambled eggs and some German bread Peter brought over, Peter and I spent most of the morning selecting and installing four glass sculptures at the Oasis Gallery.
I then went back to the studio to plan out the cold shop work for Mung. Peter called and said that his lunch plans had fallen through so we walked over to a local Sichuan restaurant, Litangqianqiu, which was also an art gallery showing the owner’s paintings. It was a beautiful day so we ate in the courtyard area. It is a very beautiful restaurant, which is frequented by many of the local artists. The food was good, but much more expensive than the local restaurants. I miss the local restaurants which have been victims of urban redevelopment and expansion, which is greatly changing Hegezhuang.
After lunch we decided to walk through Hegezhuang. Peter told me that the owners of the Orchard and the Green Room Teahouse restaurants had brought up all of the land and houses and were reconstructing fancy houtongs for rent and/or sale. Most of the small homes have been demolished and there are now new houtongs renting out for US $1,000 or more per month, which is very expensive for that particular area. We glimpsed inside one of the new structures and it was quite luxurious. Most of the local stores have disappeared. This means that there is very limited local shopping, so you really need a bicycle or car if you live in 318.
I tried to take a nap but ended up working with Mung on refinishing the sculptures, e-mailing images of the new sculptures to various people and then going to Zheng Fan’s, the metal fabricator, to order some more metal inserts for the glass sculptures. Since my last visit I had redesigned the inserts and decided to create different sizes. He has really expanded and appears to be doing very well.
On the way home I stopped at the landlord’s office to find out if the government had approved of my large sculptures. Alen told me no, that my lease was up on July 1 and they were raising the rent to RMB 1.00 per meter as of two days ago. This caught me by surprise as it was my understanding that the rent was being increased to RMB .80 based on what was said at tenants meeting the previous night. His response was that the landlord was considering the tenants’ complaints and that they had decided to raise the rent another 25%. There is a planned tenant’s confrontation at the landlord’s office at 12 o’clock noon tomorrow. Apparently, the landlord reacted indignantly and vindictively to the prior tenants’ complaints about the rent increase, only one year leases and that one full year had to be paid in advance.
I was too tired to go out for supper and there was plenty of work to do on setting up a new exhibit at New York BJ restaurant/art gallery. First, Leo, Li Gang’s prior assistant, came by to say hello. He now has a studio in Hegezhuang, until it gets torn down for the new houtongs, and his services are available. Next, Oxy stopped by to pick up the money that I owed him for the work his crew had done the last time I was here. Then Fan came by to pick up the sample swivel hooks for the metal inserts. I then decided to get everything organized for updating my Internet service through July 1, 2011.
I am in a difficult position with signing a new lease at 318. Because I invested so much into the construction of a studio and its great location, it is not economically worth it to me to tear everything down and reconstruct a new studio at a new facility. But with the landlord fighting with tenants, who knows what the final rent and other terms will be. I may have no choice but to come back for July 1 to renew on the landlord’s terms if things do not calm down very soon and it is getting quite ugly.
I am trying to stay up to speak to Leslie and Eric on Skype, but I am having a hard time keeping awake.
After 12 hours of sleep I felt a lot better. Two blankets and a duvet made for a much better night’s sleep. After breakfast I did a few errands. First, I went to the local supermarket to pick up more laundry detergent because Mung decided to take apart my three living room chairs to clean the slipcovers. I then went to the fabricator to modify my order. It was not even 9:00 a.m. and the foundry was extremely busy. On the way home my electric bicycle was starting to become a manual bicycle even though I charged the battery the night before. My electric bicycle had apparently been heavily used in my absence. The bicycle lock was also missing. If I have time before going to Zibo, I will get a new battery and lock.
I then packed three sculptures for delivery to New YorkBJ restaurant for the upcoming show on opening night for the gallery. Initially, I stopped at China netcom to extend my internet connection service contract from May 1, 2010 to May 1, 2011. At first they insisted that this could not be done and I needed to come back in April to pay for the next month. I explained to them that since I do not permanently reside in Beijing and did not know when I was returning, this was not feasible. I also brought the paperwork to show them that they previously let me pay one year in advance. Three conversations later with a supervisor at the main office I was able to get the year’s extension.
Just like last year I gave them my credit card, but they told me that they only take cash or a Chinese credit card. I showed them the receipt from last year showing that the renewal was charged to VISA and I did not have enough cash with me. However, since my VISA account number had changed they refused to take the credit card. I only had 900 RMB and suggested that I extend only through December 31, 2010. They said I could only extend for one year. I asked them to wait and went out to Huang and he had the additional 480 RMB. So that was finally accomplished! I had one less thing to worry about. Then it was off to New York BJ. With his new car Huang had also purchased a GPS because he was always getting lost. It got us very near the restaurant and then he asked directions.
Peter was extremely busy and the lunch hour at the New York BJ restaurant was just beginning. His philosophy was that while the restaurant was breaking in he did not want a bunch of waiters hanging around. When the restaurant started to get busy he would then hire and train waiters. Between all his chores we had sound bytes for meetings. So I decided to leave the sculptures with him and let him decide where they would go. When the works I delivered last Fall had been installed by me, each piece of work had its own separate space. I believe that the space around my sculpture is an integral part of the work. Everything has been rearranged so it was chock full of art. Now it was a combination restaurant and art gallery. Much of the work was by a very kitschy Chinese painter that was not to my taste and was very expensively priced. As he boasted to Peter, he could turn out a major piece in a few days and he was proud of his ability to do this. Peter thought it he showed in his work. I agree. Also, it turns out that the original paintings Peter wanted from him were allegedly sold in Korea so Peter took the replacements because he felt he needed to fill the space and now regretted it. He also did not like the artist as an individual and was not telling him about the grand opening on April 1. That’s why Peter asked me to bring extra pieces and reset the opening so I could be there as the featured artist. His loss, my gain. I decided to try his cheeseburger . It was quite good and nicely presented. I hope the restaurant does well.
Back in the studio I inspected the new glass pieces to see which ones need additional finishing work before Mung came at 3:30. I started working on one of the pieces. I prefer teaching others how to do this task. It is tedious work but it is the difference between a very professional artwork and something that was not properly finished even though the average person would not notice it.
The Wang’s came over with my train tickets. They had some tea at my place before we went off to dinner to a very new Sichuan restaurant in the middle of nowhere near our compound. The food was extremely spicy. Since Mrs. Wang has a sensitive stomach I let her do the ordering as my guest, since she and her daughter were nice enough to get me to train tickets and drive to my place to deliver them. I noticed that everyone in the restaurant, including myself, was blowing their nose. Apparently, the Sichuan spices clean out your nasal system. Back in the studio I did some more work on my glass pieces, did some editing of the images of my new work for submission to a jury for the upcoming show to be put on by the Sculptors Alliance in New York City. After speaking to Leslie and my office on Skype, it was time to go to sleep. The studio was a lot warmer tonight.
Since Li Gang was coming over at noon to show us his new studio and go out for lunch, I got up a little earlier to organize the glass finishing work for Mung. Peter came over for breakfast and then we both went back to work since we understood that Li Gang’s studio was far away. Li Gang, with two of his friends, came at 10 rather than 12 . The only thing I was able to accomplish was to finish two more glass pieces, some photo editing on the computer and some rough drafts for new sculpture ideas . One of Li’s friends was an Australian curator/promoter. The other was his Chinese girlfriend who had been away for 10 days. They had lived in China together for six months and had already moved three times. Being an artist in China can mean a type of permanent in transit mode.
Li Gang’s new studio is more than a 20 minute drive north from 318 Art Park. It is not in an artist area. Although it is very remote, there are some large western style developments very near to Gang’s new compound. Also, there are very wide new roads signaling the continued expansion of Beijing to this area. The studio is under construction in a former warehouse area where they used to make “antique” furniture. There are no other artists around except three German women who share a unit in a compound rented by Li Gang. Although his unit is still under construction it already looks like he has lived there for five years. But he is very happy with his new space. He now has a full-time job in a factory owned by his wife’s uncle which is producing energy-saving solar lighting. But he’s worked out an arrangement to continue his art work, which is near his new studio, at the same time providing design services for the factory. His family has taken a new flat in Wanjin, which is about 3 miles nearer the center of town than 318.
On the way to lunch we stopped to buy small plastic receptacles for my broken glass to organize the materials for some more of the smash series, which I am renaming “A Shattered Dream.” Lunch was at a restaurant near a new group of McMansions for westerners on a man-made lake that was not very scenic. There were already western style restaurants but we stopped at a different style of restaurant. It has only private rooms designed as individual northern Kang “living/sleeping areas.” You took off your shoes and step up into a raised wooden area, which is over a fire to keep you warm. Since this was a bitter cold day, you can understand why the traditional simple homes of the north were designed this way. But, it was too hot if you were seated right over or too near the heat source.
The food was quite traditional and excellent. The four of us treated Li Gang in celebration of his new studio and new job. Then back to the studio to smash glass since it had warmed up a bit. Even though I enclose the pieces to be smashed in a traditional Chinese paper suitcase, I do it outside. When I pour the fragments into the plastic wash basins some of the glass does not go in. After that I read some more of my mystery. I was too tired to go out for dinner and went to bed very early.
I woke up to a traditional Beijing sandstorm. It was like being on another planet. It was the perfect day to work in the studio on the Shattered Dream series set of sculptures. You go with the weather, since going outside was impossible. I pity the persons who have to commute to work by walking or bicycle. Initially I worked on epoxying a shattered blue Chinese Dragon to a gold painted board. It is another variation of my recycling steel that no one wants. The pieces of broken glass, just by themselves and especially in the light, are beautiful.
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The storm finally subsided. Next, I took my electric bicycle to the repair shop to check out the battery and buy a new lock since the original lock had disappeared. I had noticed that the battery wasn’t holding a charge and didn’t want to take a chance of a breakdown far from home. On the way to the repair shop I noticed that the huge area of small shops to service the construction industry was being torn down. It had only been put up two years ago. No one knew where they had moved to and there were no signs. It was depressing to see over 200 vacant stores in what had appeared to be a thriving area of small stores catering to the construction and building trades. The bicycle shop had greatly expanded its showroom and was also selling a march larger selection of motorcycles but a smaller selection of electric bicycles. As people are earning more money they are apparently buying cars and motorcycles rather than electric bicycles, which are better for the environment.
The repair man recognized me and told me what a beautiful house I had and he especially liked the artwork in it. When my electric bicycle had previously broken down he had come to the house to see if he could fix it well enough for me get to the shop . He asked me who the artist was and I told him that the area was a designated our area for the artists to live and work, and this was mostly my work in my studio. With the repaired bike and a new lock, I returned home. I again looked at the boarded up industrial shopping area. Immediately behind the closed off area was a huge building. I could not tell whether it was an office building or a factory as it was not yet finished. As I looked around I saw other large buildings going up in that area. It is amazing how fast Beijing is growing. I am worried that I will not be able to locate where these vendors have moved. Sunny was back in Nanjing and he is the only sculptor/artist I know who also used that area to get certain materials and supplies. He has moved to Songzhuang, which is almost an hour away by car.
I then went over to take some photographs of the new installation at Oasis Gallery. Peter felt that the installation needed a fifth element in the overall composition of that wall of his gallery, so we picked out a fifth element and then installed it.
Peter was leaving that day for New York and I offered to take him to a farewell lunch. He felt really pressured to organize everything before returning home. After a lull of about an hour, it got very windy again, but there was no sand swirling around this time. So I went by myself in a wind storm to Jin Ban Wei for lunch, but all the lights were out and apparently they closed the kitchen although the restaurant was jam packed. Since I was leaving soon to visit Shen Jing Dong and Lu Coral at his new studio I went to one of the new small restaurants that had just opened down the road. Although their lights were out, apparently the kitchen had enough light to cook.
Huang used his GPS to get us fairly near Shen Jing Dong’s new studio, which is an hour away and near the Sheng Sheng Museum. But he had to call Lu Coral at least three times to get us there. Their studio is 350 m² on the second floor of an area with other artist studios. The rent is 30% of what 318 is now asking for. However, the cost to tear down what I built into the studio and then to rebuild a new studio plus the time and aggravation involved to do that makes it economically and emotionally unfeasible to move my studio on such short notice to this area. This area is further from the center of town and is almost 45 minutes to an hour from the airport. But this is where a lot of artists are moving because the rents are very cheap and there is a real artist community. The Sheng Sheng Museum, is the focal point of the area. Unfortunately, there was no heat on Jing Dong’s studio. Lu Coral has kept her apartment in Wanjin and Jing Dong spends most of his nights there. They got married late last year and are thinking of honeymooning in Cuba after his one-man show in Spain this summer.
They chose Cuba because a friend told them that it had beautiful beaches. That is not the information that I have received from people who have gone to Cuba via Toronto, and dive operators in that part of the Caribbean. After they told me what they were looking for I gave them a list of islands which are easy to get to from Miami, have great beaches and have more of the type of activities they are looking for. Jing Dong also has a GPS for his car. After two hours of freezing in the studio we went off to Red Gate Gallery. The GPS got us near there, but it was apparent that they were lost. Neither of them had ever been to the Red Gate Gallery. Fortunately, I recognized the watchtower that houses the gallery and was able to direct us there.
There were a number of people that I knew that were attending the “Control Lost” exhibit of Zhou Jun’s large photographs and four small broken ceramic sculptures adjacent to broken bamboo structures used to construct large buildings. Both the past and the present were broken. I did not understand the message that he was trying to get across. I met the sculptor who does the porcelain clothes. I like his work and he was very nice to talk to although his English was even more limited than my Chinese. Zhou Jun joined us for the trip to the restaurant to celebrate the opening. He kept disagreeing with what the GPS was telling Jing Dong to do. I could understand the commands of the GPS but it was taking us in a circle around the office building where Michael Liu has his office. They pulled over to the side of the road to sort out their differences. I was told the name of the restaurant and the street so I got out of the car and asked questions. Fortunately, someone understood my question and gave me the right answers and we were at the restaurant only 10 minutes after everyone else.
It is an elegant restaurant over the Coco Banana nightclub. It was named after a province in the south and the food was from that province and very good. One unique dish was beef ribs with vegetables that was excellent. It was lots of meat which had been cooked for hours and just fell off the bone. It reminded me of the taste of brisket, but it was more flavorful. After dinner most of the people went off to a fashion show. I had a lot to do to prepare for my trip to Boshan tomorrow so I decided to go back to the studio.
One of my e-mails advised me that the jury had selected three of my Series 5 glass sculptures, and one of my new metal sculptures for the Sculptors Alliance’s 30th anniversary show at the New York Public Library in New York City. They needed more information and I needed to coordinate the installation of my works since I was coming back too late to install by the deadline they had set for the completion of the installation. But, they knew that when I submitted at their request. Organizing everything took me close to two hours and I finally got to sleep around midnight.
Huang was over half an hour late. But I know from experience to assume that, so I give him an earlier time. Just as we got to the train station he stopped the car and without explanation hailed a taxi to take me the last one quarter of a mile. I don’t know why, but I suspect that the Beijing police do not like unlicenced taxis. He got a taxi with me and insisted on paying for the taxi and not charging me for the trip. It was bizarre. The train ride was efficient and uneventful. When I got off the train at Zibo about 50 drivers hawked me for the business. I wanted to get outside and stretch my legs. There was the same woman taxi driver who took me to Boshan the last time in that area. After negotiating a price she then recognized me and we had a good laugh.
The hotel check-in went very smoothly. But that’s where it ended. The first room assigned to me had something wrong with the Internet connection. Although this hotel is only three years old, this room, as well as much of the hotel, looks many years older. It is like a prizefighter who had just lost a 10 round decision. While we were trying to fix the Internet service one of the housekeepers just kept saying everything was okay and wanted to leave. But, this was not the case. The room was also extremely cold so they agreed to bring in a portable heater. But the Internet still did not work. So they gave me another room. However the connecting unit from the outside internet connecting line to my computer was damaged so it was obvious that there was no Internet service in that room. So we went to a third room. 20 minutes later it appeared that I may have access to the Internet, although everything is in Chinese.
I was hungry and tired and figured that I should get something to eat since I did not have any lunch. First I went off to buy new shoelaces. When I finally found them, the sales ladies would not let me pay for them saying that this is a service that they offer to customers who come in to buy new shoes. It was starting to rain so I went to a small restaurant across from the hotel to order dumplings. They brought out a plate of clams, which I had not ordered. But they told I had, so I decided to eat then while the staff was having fun with my Chinese paperwork from Chinapod. They even quizzed me on one of the lessons. The clams, which were cooked in garlic, hot peppers and other seasonings were sensational. They were like the Manila clams that they serve with pasta in Italian restaurants in New York City. The dumplings were also good, but once they got cold were not good.
I made sure that they put toilet paper and tea in my room. It is so cold in the hotel that the staff is all bundled up in overcoats and are too cold to think. The portable electric heater is now in my new room. It feels warm when you are right next to it, but if you are 5 feet
away from it is still very cold. It has been a long day. I am going to do some reading and then go to bed. I was looking forward to creating two new series of glass sculptures starting tomorrow. I had brought the new molds with me. One is tentatively to be called “Woman.” The other is a marine animal design that I have not yet named. Both are pushing the limits of what we do now. The second mold is slightly longer and is much more curved than the molds I have previously used.
It was a cold and overcast day in Boshan. When I did not get a call from one of the Suns, I went down for breakfast in the hotel. Although it is supposed to open at seven o’clock, the dining room was locked. I went downstairs to find out what was going on and breakfast was available five minutes later. Sun Hun Yao apparently had a problem, so I told him that I would take a taxi to Aimei. The foundry was just setting up. All of the workers were glad to see me. I decided to get right to work because I did not want to interfere with the Sun’s administrative work in another building or embarrass the son if he was not at work.
I distributed the gifts for the craftsmen that I directly deal with in creating sculptures. I gave them each T-shirts with the images of sculptures I created at Aimei, with the Chinese “life is good” as well as the other side saying that in English. It was extremely cold in the foundry. Nine out of the 10 furnaces were working, which indicated to me that I had the chance of getting in a full day’s work. Rather than starting with one of the new molds, we elected to use an older mold while the clay settled in around the new mold. There is a special clay in this area of Shandong Province which can take high heat. It is ideal to use to prevent the molten glass from going under the metal form. In the first sculpture Soya was still fixed with the idea of the graceful thin tail. I then persuaded him that I wanted to finish the sculptures as I had done in the last session. We had previously viewed the last sessions sculptures on my computer, but apparently it didn’t register. By the third sculpture we were doing the tail the way that I wanted.
Initially we did a series of five with a red base and white frits. We then did a second and third series using clear glass over white glass with pink and then red frits. For some reason the combination of white glass over clear glass and then a layer of frits followed by another layer of clear glass works very well. We were able to manipulate the last two sculptures so that the front of the sculpture is able to be clear above the “eyes.” This was almost done in one of the white/orange/ clear sculptures in my last series pictured .
We were able to do this for three sculptures before lunch. It is a continuous learning process. Chen had to do some errands so Soya and I went off to lunch. He a lot of questions about the United States and what was happening. My Chinese must be getting much better because most of our conversation was in Chinese. However, there were a number of particular words that I did not know in Chinese that would’ve been very helpful in this conversation. He feels optimistic about what President Obama is trying to do for the United States. He feels that it is in China’s best interest if the United States economy improves.
After lunch we returned to the foundry to work on the new “Woman” mold. The first two attempts were a learning experience. I changed a number of things in the way that we did the process and those changes appear to make for a more successful creation. One of the concerns was the way that the bottom portion of the sculpture was proportioned and my original concept of making the cut to create the feeling of two separate legs was not working visually or practically. Another concern was that the top of the sculpture was very similar in feeling to the sea creatures that we had just created, but an entirely different shape. First, we did five of the series with a red base and white frits. I then decided to experiment and just do this with a red base over clear glass. When I finally get the sculptures I will see if the experiment was a success. We then did a few more sculptures using a blue base with no frits. By then it was almost 4:00 pm which is when the foundry closes down.
I took a taxi back to the hotel and went to sleep. I had previously made arrangements with Snow Cao to have dinner with him and his wife. I put on the portable heater and took a nap. He called at 5:30 and said they had a family emergency, so I got up to work on a diary and study Chinese. On this trip to China I have often only had two meals a day because if I am not hungry why should I force myself to eat. Surprisingly, the urge to have a third meal is quickly disappearing even though I was raised to eat three full meals a day. As I am writing this I am debating whether or not to go down to dinner. The hotel dining room is all dark but they tell me that they are serving food. It is too depressing a place to eat. I would rather go out into the chilly air and eat in an unheated restaurant that has the lights on and cheerful people. Although this hotel is only three years old and considered the best hotel in Boshan, you can see and feel that it is in financial trouble. I hope it gets its act together but I am not optimistic. For example, when I got back to the room they had not replaced the soap or the tea. In fact, the teacups still had the remains of what was left from yesterday.
My deliberations about whether or not to go out to a restaurant for dinner were interrupted by smoke coming from the table next to my bed. I tried to call the front desk and no one answered. So I went down to the lobby to explain to them that there was smoke in my room. It was like I was talking to someone who could care less. I finally grabbed the guy working on my new desk and physically took him to the room. When he got to my room and he smelled the smoke he got the picture. The same maid who thought everything was so funny yesterday appeared again. She only aggravated the situation until I finally told her that was not funny to me to be moved three separate rooms on one day and then on the next day to have to pack up and move to another room. The fourth room I was moved to did not have a proper connection for the Internet. So I insisted to be moved to another room with a proper internet connection. Two hours after the smoke-filled room caused me to go downstairs I was in my fifth room partially unpacked. By then it was too late to go out to dinner and I wasn’t hungry anyway. But, I was able to requisition two additional blankets in my travels so I was able to get a good nights sleep.
The pollution was a lot less today. Sun Yun Hao came one half hour earlier than expected. I asked him if he could stop so I could get some breakfast, since I was unable to have breakfast at the hotel. Apparently, they were stopping to pick up large steamed dumplings and a hard boiled egg for their own breakfast. So they picked up four extra large dumplings for me and a hard-boiled egg. The dumplings were especially juicy but I had no napkin. So I washed my hands at the foundry. The dumplings were delicious and the egg was very tasty. I was really hungry.
We continued to do work on the Woman mold. In preparing for the day’s work, I noticed that they had a particularly nice fairly dark red they were using to make future color blocks. I asked if there was enough red glass for me to use on a series. I got a thumbs up. The Lady in Red was a favorite movie of mine and I did 5 sculptures using just this color without any frits. I did a few more of this series in a blue without frits. While we were working on the sculptures one of the glassblowers was preparing green and white thick rods. I had an idea about creating a split personality as part of the Woman series. At first Soya thought I was a bit crazy but I said let’s give it a try and see how it works. We ended up doing a series of five, with the last three in red white and blue. I may call these three “Sarah Palin,” which will get a reaction because of the title. The red white and blue was actually Soya’s idea after he had seen how the first two looked. It will be interesting to see of this particular group will come out and how people will react.
It was time for lunch and Chen joined us at the local restaurant we always go to. Because Aimei begins its lunch hour at 11:00 AM we are always the first ones in the restaurant. Again, they let me pick the ingredients, but I included them in the discussion. The food was excellent and Chen wanted to talk about American politics. Whereas Soya seemed to like Obama, Chen had a different opinion. He felt that Obama was wrong in fighting two wars at the same time. I tried to explain to him that these were wars that Obama inherited from the prior administration and he felt that he could not just pull out the troops and say goodbye. Chen and Soya were concerned that Obama had increased the troop levels in Afghanistan but acknowledged that the troop level in Iraq had declined. It was my opinion that Afghanistan was a no-win situation but our administration is convinced that if we do not eradicate the Taliban and other terrorist groups allied with them, that they are a threat to world peace. I pointed out that other countries have joined us in Afghanistan. But they countered that the bulk of the forces were American forces and that the huge expenditures we were making to fight two wars were weakening our country financially. I could not disagree. We were able to conduct this conversation in Chinese but I knew that my lack of vocabulary limited my ability to properly express myself.
After completing sculptures on the Woman mold, and being told that there would be no more red tomorrow, I made a decision to use that color as the base on the second new mold. This mold is by far the largest mold I have used to date. It also contains two large bends. We discussed how much glass would be needed to properly execute this series. I could tell from the first sculpture that we created that I may have a real winner in this series. It was like the mold and our team were in sync and the lines of the sculpture appeared to be very good from the outset. We did a series of three with the dark red glass as the base with yellow frits. When Chen told me that he changed his mind and the foundry would have this color red again tomorrow, I switched to using a white base with colored frits. I wanted to use the dark red and the deep blue for the frits, but as we were preparing the glass, neither of those colored frits were available so I scrambled to find some Black frits until Chen could make the colors that I wanted. I knew that both of these colors were available in other forms and Chen on his own was in the other part of the factory making these frits because the hand grinding machine is very loud and has a unique sound .
After completing one black-and-white sculpture in the series, I noticed that everyone had stopped work. Apparently, the foundry had run out of clear glass, which is basic to almost all of the work that they are doing. So I decided to do some errands on the way back to the hotel. My first stop was to replenish my China Mobile phone with 100 RMB. The young girl working there
thought I wanted a new phone. I tried to explain to her that all I wanted to do was to replenish my account. Her response was to take apart my phone and confiscate the SIM card. I suggested rather strongly that she contact a supervisor so we could straighten this out. The supervisor’s response was that I needed a new cell phone number. She spoke English and I explained to her that that would be a disaster. She asked why and after giving her four different reasons she finally understood. We finally got the young woman to reassemble my phone. In the interim, her supervisor had returned and between her and the manager they were finally able to replenish my account. Apparently, there is a new 1RMB charge for this service by China mobile and the young woman did not want me to pay that charge. That was the basis for her to try to sell me a new phone and pay for a new number. When I got back to the hotel I made a call and it went through.
My next stop was at the pharmacy to get some medicine for a rash on my ankle. What they recommended was a product from Novartis. What used to be an area of abandoned stores around one side of the hotel had changed dramatically. There are some nice looking new stores, no vacant stores and only a few of the outlet stores that were on the street previously. My next stop was to get bottled water for the hotel room. After fixing a running toilet, I ended up taking a nap after re-requisitioning the two blankets. I received a call at 5:30 p.m., as my wake up call. In fact, I had asked the desk to wake me up tomorrow morning at 6:30. After a hot cup of tea I updated the China Diary entries and decided to do some reading rather than studying Chinese. I know it sounds ironic but I find it extremely difficult to study Chinese while I am in China.
The sky was a vibrant blue and it was somewhat warmer than yesterday. Breakfast was actually served on time at the hotel. Sun Yun wanted to pick me up and called for me to be in the lobby at 7:30 AM. He came by at 8:15 , which meant that I lost at least a half an hour of work. We continued working with the large new mold and I did a series of five large red whales and five large blue whales. I noticed that there was some yellow glass in one of the furnaces and was told that there still was a small amount left. I have only used this as a base color on a limited basis, and I wanted to use it again. Chen told me that if I used the small mold, I could do two sculptures with a yellow base. I did one with blue frits and one with red frits. I am anxious to see how they come out. I then created 5 small red whales and five small blue whales using a white background which seems to work well in combination with the clear glass and brightly colored frits. Unfortunately, the foundry ran out of clear glass at about 2:30 PM.
So it was off to the pharmacy to get some medicine to treat an eye condition that flared up while I was working today. Again, they gave me a Western medicine to fix the problem. Apparently the drops are working. And I find it quite interesting then in a country known for its herbal medicines, the pharmacies do not hesitate in giving you Western medications. After a three hour nap I was not hungry and decided to catch up on office work and administrative work for my upcoming exhibits. Because of the Google dispute with China I am unable to send out any images utilizing the Google email program on Picassa. For some reason I cannot send out the images on the other ISPs. I don’t know why but it would my suspicion that this is related to the Google dispute as I have never had this problem before.
Standing for seven hours in an alternating hot and cold facility is extremely exhausting. Also, I am getting used to eating only two meals a day. I am not hungry for supper after eating a hearty lunch. However, at my suggestion Chen and Soya are not ordering as much food as they were apparently under the impression that the more they order the happier I would be. Today, we had a very simple lunch - fried pieces of beef, two vegetable dishes, and a beef and vegetable soup. I passed on the local buns initially but finally relented to have half a bun. They love these absolutely tasteless buns in Shandong province. If I dip the bun into one of the sauces it becomes almost edible. Oh for a piece of good New York rye bread, Italian peasant bread or a French baguette. I will have to figure out a way to bring good bread on my next trip so they can sample the type of bread that I like. No wonder a sandwich is not part of the Chinese culinary tradition.
I am looking forward to speaking to Leslie and finally finishing my book. I am also thinking about what to create tomorrow and how to make arrangements to get to the Zibo train station in plenty of time. Last year, I had a taxi driver who did not know how to get there. He drove very slowly and it was only when I made him stop to ask for directions and took over the directions that we made the train with one minute to spare. Once is enough.
I awoke to a snowstorm in late March . It was windy and very cold. After breakfast at the hotel I waited for Sun Yan’s telephone call. When he didn’t call by 7:30 I got a taxi. The taxi made a wrong turn and all he wanted to do was drop me off at some big factory. I made him do a U-turn and we finally found the right turn. I was at the factory by 8 :00 a.m. I spoke to Soya as he was getting on his motorcycle and he told me that he had woken up with a high fever and cold and was going to go home.
Chen assigned one of the glassblowers to replace Soya. Chen took over the glass gathering function and I tried to instruct the glassblower on what he needed to do as part of the team. The first two sculptures were not good. However, by the third sculpture we were functioning much more competently. You begin to realize that you need a team that is used to working with each other to produce quality sculptures. But sometimes you have to work within reality. So I modified my plan for the day. There were some interesting colors, some of which I could not interpret the English equivalent. But two colors looked good to me and I decided to use them without frits on the Woman form. I also made a modification to our technique. Originally we had used a small cut at the bottom of the “Woman” sculptures to indicate the legs and feet. In my modification there was no cut and we used one of the tools to make a slight indentation to indicate legs and tilted up the bottom to indicate the feet. I like the way it looked and decided to use these modifications on the rest of the sculptures in the Woman series.
I also did three white bases with pink frits in the Woman series . That took us through lunch and a little after. At lunch Chen and I discussed the educational systems in China and America. His daughter is studying economics at Wuhan University on a full scholarship. Unlike her father she was an excellent student in high school and he is glad that she has the opportunity to obtain a college degree. Without a scholarship the annual cost for a year is 5000 RMB for tuition. By comparison with all the costs are added up for an American college, if you are a living away from home, it is closer to US $45,000. He believes that the Chinese government has made a conscious decision to keep the cost of college education reasonable.
He considers Tsing Hua University and Beijing University to be the two best colleges in China closely followed by Shanghai and Fujan universities. Wuhan University is considered in the next tier but she went there because of the full scholarship. I tried to explain to him my rankings of the American universities and the difference between private colleges and land grant/state institution. I also tried to explain to him that there are two general types of educational approaches: a liberal arts approach to give the student a broad well-rounded education on the assumption that you would be going to graduate school to become a doctor, lawyer etc. and a specific specialized program like engineering. It was tough to do this on my limited vocabulary and I did not want to continuously resort to the dictionary as it would break up the chain of the conversation.
He wanted to know if New York and Washington were beautiful cities. I told him that the public parts of Washington that everyone knows about is very beautiful, but there are a number of very poor people in Washington and where they live is not beautiful. Unlike Washington, New York City is an island and many parts of it are beautiful, especially Central Park. There are also some nice residential areas in New York City, as well as areas that are not so nice for the people who make much less money. Chen’s response was that it is no different in China.
In the afternoon we did a few more sculptures on the larger of the two new molds before the foundry ran out of clear glass at 2:30 PM. I also asked Sun Yun if the company driver, Dong, would be able to drive me to the Zibo railroad station Friday afternoon. He said that he would drive me. I did not want to re-create the experience I had on my last trip when the taxi driver was a total disaster and I almost missed the train. Hopefully, this will be one less thing to worry about.
Although the snow stopped and the sun had come out, it was still very cold. I went back at the hotel and started to read. That lasted less than 10 minutes and I crawled under all of my blankets and put on the portable heater. Three hours later I woke up and decided to go across the street to have those delicious clams and a vegetable. The restaurant is extremely deceptive. There was a small simple dining room facing the street where I normally and then there are a number of private dining rooms inside on the same floor and down stairs. I tried to explain to the staff that I wanted the clams that I had Sunday night. When that didn’t work I asked them to show me the kitchen so I could point out the clams. They were kept near the fresh fish. I also told them that I wanted a vegetable to go with the clams rather than dumplings. We discussed what vegetable and they decided to let me go back into the kitchen. The kitchen was across the alley way in a separate building. It was very old but extremely well-organized and there was a total of 8 chefs. The restaurant was obviously very busy as there were a number of dishes ready for service.
Trying not to attract attention at the restaurant I brought my pencil notes from my Chinese lessons in New York. That didn’t work as the staff asked me where was my Chinese study materials. My notes do not contain the Chinese characters. I tried to explain that I had written out the Chinese in pinyan with the corresponding English translation. The staff and two of the customers asked me to read the pinyan and then they corrected my pronunciation. They told me that I spoke too much like a Beijinger. I explained to them that I spent a lot of time in Beijing and very little time by comparison in Boshan. It made for an interesting dinner. Then I came back to the hotel to post my diary, do some more reading, speak to Leslie on Skype and catch up on the news by reading the New York Times internet summary.
It was a beautiful sunny day with bright blue skies, but it was still very cold. Packing is a necessary pain in the neck. When I called Sun Yun to find out what time he was coming, he said 8:30, which means to me sometime after 9:00 a.m. so I told him that I would take a taxi to the foundry. Soya was still out sick. We did 10 more blue and red whales, with a variation in the shaping and tails. I then decided to use yellow frits on a white base over clear with red, then blue and green circles in the yellow frits before the white is rolled over it. It will be interesting to see how this experiment turns out.
Paying the bill was no hassle this time, but in coordinating with my Beijing shipping company, I found out for the first time that Becky, who was previously out for an hour was in reality no longer with the company. And to make matters worse the woman handling the call told me that no one at the company speaks English. This time thanks to Sun Yun driving me, I arrived at the station an hour before departure time. I was dog tired but could not go to sleep on the train. In trying to sleep I dreamed up a tool that would be very useful in future sculptures. When you see a glass sculpture before it is cleaned and fixed up it is not pretty. It is covered with a type of clay dust. I await my next trip to see the polished glass in the studio. I will then have a good idea of what works and what does not. Doing it on the fly is not the best way, but sometimes when it does not look right you have no choice. When I saw some of the cured but unfinished Woman sculptures, I realized the tremendous variation in each one.
The train ride was uneventful except that there was an American teaching English in China sitting across from me who could not stop talking. She was going to Beijing for a farewell weekend with her new Finnish boyfriend. I am meeting Madeline Odea and some of her friends for dinner at some unidentified restaurant in the Sun Lai Tun area, which is on the way home. Saturday afternoon Ivy Liu and her friend are coming to the studio. Sunday Harvey Dotzin and some friends are coming to the studio and then we are going to lunch. There is a photography exhibit at 3:00 in 798 sponsored by the Greek Embassy . My eye is still bothering me so I do not see gallery hopping in my weekend future. Dinner with Madeline and her friends was at a Turkish restaurant. The food was mostly gone by the time I got there. Richard had too much to drink and there were some dreadfully boring people from Australia, but there was an interesting graphic designer/software consultant who joined us for dinner. When I got home I tried to call Leslie on Skype, but was unsuccessful. When she called back I was too tired and drained to get out of bed quickly enough to answer the call.
A good nights sleep was a big help in making me feel better. I did some office work in the morning and came up with design of a new tool to use in creating my glass sculptures in Boshan. It is a modification of a rolling pin so that in applying the molten glass there are less cross hash marks. I will look for the mechanism in a cooking store and then build the type of handle that can handle extreme heat ( please excuse the pun). I will definitely do that search in New York City as there is a whole area in the Bowery with a number of industrial cooking utensils. I did some meditating to try to think of new projects. Nothing came to mind so I picked a new book to read. It is a trilogy of detective stories by Philip Kerr occurring in Germany during the 1930s. It is well written and I read 40 pages before Grace Young, a curator, showed up.
She was accompanied by an assistant, Mr. Bing, a meticulously dressed young man. One hand had an expensive driving glove and he had a matching colored bead necklace and bracelet. Grace is the exact opposite. She brought me a beautiful China tea set and I gave her one of my Shei Hou Shi Hao T shirts. She looked briefly at the new work and then I suggested that we go to the Oasis Gallery to see how this series looked as an installation. This also gave me a chance to show her Peter’s work. I had cleared this in advance with Febi, Laurans Tan’s assistant, who has access to the gallery. It turns out that Grace and Febi are old friends and were very happy to see each other. We then came back to the studio.
She said she had two propositions that she wanted to discuss. She was trying to get a few artists to pay for a booth at the Shanghai Exposition. The monthly cost is 50,000 RMB. Apparently, it is quite common in China for artists to finance their own show at a gallery, so why not a booth at an exposition which has far greater traffic. I explained to her that since I could not be in constant attendance during the five month fair, her proposition did not make business sense for me. She said I could do it for a month and I could split the cost with other artists. There would only be a few artists I felt comfortable with. I said I would think about it.
Her next project was a special exhibition being put on by Beijing Cultural Development Foundation featuring four sculptors working in different mediums. The four mediums were stone, porcelain, glass and wood. Each sculptor would have one room. She had selected me to be the glass sculptor and we agreed that it would be appropriate if I looked at the space first before deciding how many and which pieces would be appropriate. She also told me that my glass exhibit at the Moon River Museum Annex was still there because it has proven to be quite popular. Mr. Bing then helped me take the new smash series out of the front yard to shake out the glass that did not adhere to the wood . They were going off to see the opening at Li Gang’s New gallery 798 and I promised to meet them later after Ivy and her friend came to the studio. The opening was at 4:00 p.m., and they were supposed to arrive at my studio at 4:00 p.m.
Grace gave her directions. Two and a half hours later they finally arrived. I spent the last hour with them on the phone guiding them to the studio. I can get from the new mall to my studio on my electric bicycle in about 5 minutes. It took them over an hour by car. Everyone needed a drink and since the opening was ending at seven o’clock there was no way that we could get there in time to meet everyone and then go off to dinner. So we sat around had some wine and then went off to Jin Ban Wei for Beijing duck . The restaurant was extremely crowded and we had to wait for a table. I was the only foreigner in the place and immediately after we were seated five children between the ages of three and six decided to come over to gawk. My solution was to pull up some chairs from the partially empty table next to us and invite them to sit down. The parents thought it was hysterically funny but it was okay with them. Apparently they had finished dinner and welcomed the nonpresence of their children. For an extra 10 RMB the restaurant will take the leftover parts of the duck and make a soup. I did not think the soup was very good. I always use leftover parts to mix with eggs the next day and that tastes much better. These were the parts that were used for the soup.
After dinner I did some reading and sketching before going to bed.
It was a beautiful day. After Mung came to do the housecleaning I went for a walk around the neighborhood . It was extremely quiet as everyone apparently was sleeping late on Sunday morning. I reviewed the Beijing Cultural Development Foundation website since this was the second project they had asked me to work on. It is apparently very well funded by both the government and private industry and the current head of his organization is the former Chinese ambassador to Germany. They also have an entity to accept donations which are entitled to a tax deduction. Previously, Grace had brought this to my attention. I told her that when I had sold enough pieces through her to establish an established market value, I would definitely consider contributing to this charitable foundation to become part of its permanent collection. I also reviewed my e-mails and one from Peter Lewis advised me about the formal opening of Xu Bing’s Phoenix exhibition at the Today Art Museum.
Harvey Dzodin, a correspondent for the Global Times and two new Chinese friends of his came at 12 o’clock. Harvey was going to take the bus , but one of them had a car so they took the car. We talked about what to do after looking at my art and having lunch and decided that the Xu Bing exhibit and talk would be more interesting. Rather than going to a Chinese restaurant for lunch we had fresh bread, cheese and salami with red wine at my studio. The Chinese had tea. On the way to the exhibit he described what it was like to be a columnist in China. Writing opinion pieces in China can be difficult because certain subjects are off limits. But his newspaper seems to have more latitude and others operating in China. His wife was in Turkey trying to persuade some investors to purchase Chinese mining properties. They were in the process of selling their home in Vienna because they found that life there was very boring compared to life in Beijing and Istanbul.
The Phoenix exhibit is quite impressive. The Phoenix was a building in Beijing that was recently destroyed by fire and Xu Bing assembled the remains into two very large mythical birds that were suspended by six cranes over a public area. They are also lit up at night. The talks were about the creation of the sculptures. The two speakers I heard, one being the chief of construction and the other Xu Bing, spoke very clearly and not too fast so I understood much of what they were saying. There may have been one other Westerner in the audience. I missed a lot of fine details but I got the essence of what they were saying. In some instances they used a PowerPoint presentation, which when combined with their body language made them easier to understand.
I also was able to contact Molly to help me negotiate with Giant Expo about packing my sculptures for the upcoming exhibition with the Sculptors Alliance. She warned me that they had dramatically increased their prices and she no longer worked there but she would speak to them for me. Previously, I was charged 300 RMB for three workers to come to my studio to pack everything for my trip back to New York and to put the sculptures in boxes for storage at the studio. The new price was 1500 RMB. That was gouging and was expensive even by New York City standards. So I started making calls for alternative packers. Molly told me that a number of other artists were very upset by this new attitude and were also looking for a new packer.
I came back to the studio to do work that I had originally planned to do earlier in the day. Liao and Febi wanted to come over to talk to me about a proposition. Liao’s studio in Hegezhuang was too small and he wanted to move into and share my studio. As nicely as I could, I told him that I am a private person and this is my home that I only share with Leslie, my children and very old friends. He was aware that the Chins had previously stayed here without me. He then wanted to know if he could have access to the back room to do his work. Again, I said no. Febi gave me the name and phone number of a packing company, in which the owner used to work for Red Gate Gallery, but she did not know if anyone at the company spoke English. At least it was a start.
I heated up some left over duck and spicy eggplant over freshly cooked rice for a simple dinner. I then started to lay out another board for the shattered series. My neighbor Hong Chen stopped by. She wanted to know if I would be willing to give her a good price for a restaurant in southern China that she was the art consultant to for two of my glass pieces that would be used in the seafood restaurant at a hotel. She brought over her camera to take some pictures and we went over various ideas of how to display the pieces and to minimize someone inadvertently breaking the pieces since they would be on a reception table in the entrance way. She especially liked the orange /white/clear smaller pieces, saying that they were good Chinese colors. In the interim Leslie and the twins called on Skype. Although the picture was good the voice communications were not on this call. I tried to get twins to talk a little Chinese with Hong but they were very shy.
Hong has recently become engaged to David and they had purchased a house out near the airport. Since it was an older house, built in 2003, it was much more reasonable than the newly constructed housing. Their house was 375 m² on the third and fourth floor. The portion of the house on the first floor was too expensive. They have not yet set a definite date for the wedding. He is an American consultant for a hotel chain and is a nice guy. Her mother had refused to meet him. He was American, divorced and too old. To her this was a loss of face, but Hong loved him and she was going ahead with the marriage.
After she left I got back to work. Thirty minutes later I got a phone call to please come to another renters meeting. It was already 10:30 PM. But as one of the few international artists, I felt it was imperative that I go. The studio was unheated and there were about 15 artists all-around a small area. Apparently, after some maneuvering the landlord had agreed to reduce the rent from 1.0 per square meter to .75 per square meter but there were four new onerous terms. First, if the area was condemned all of the prepaid rent was forfeited. Second, you have to pay a full year’s rent in advance. Third, all property and improvements in the unit became the property of the landlord without compensation. Fourth, the landlord had the right to build additional units on top of the existing units so it could receive greater compensation. The consensus of the artists were that these were unreasonable terms and they wanted to withhold their rent. I suggested that before they decide to withhold their rent, they should discuss this with their attorney. I also suggested that we each make a contribution so that the attorney is compensated as it has been my experience that when a Chinese attorneys are paid you get far better service.
They felt it was very important that the international artists be in alliance with them, especially because 318 is being billed as an area that includes international artists. They wanted to know if I would communicate with each of the international artists. I explained to them that Cindy, one of the Chinese artists who was in attendance, had already been doing this and that she was doing a terrific job keeping us posted. I assured them that I was not going to sign anything until I got the same deal that they were going to get and I agreed with the consensus that they should continue negotiating before anyone does anything that they may regret.
The meeting broke up at about 12:30 and then one of the artists, Lan Dang who had lived in America wanted to come over and see my studio since she had heard about, but had never seen my work. She understood exactly what I was trying to achieve and really liked the work. Thirty minutes later, I told her that I needed my sleep and I would visit her in her studio either tomorrow or the next day. It’s been a very long day.
I got up early to make up for the work that was not completed yesterday . After breakfast I painted the white background on one of the boards to be used for another of the Smash Series but I did not like any of the colors that I have as a background so I have to go to buy new acrylics. Huang came over after breakfast so I could go to the art store to purchase the new acrylics. I took samples of the various broken sculptures with me so I could get a better idea of what background colors would work with each smashed sculpture. Before we got on our way Huang backed up to the corner of my street. Apparently, he was also taking another passenger, Jenny, who had moved in to where the French film artist and his Chinese wife used to live. Apparently, they moved to a smaller unit in 318 West and she and her boyfriend, who was a graphic artist, had rented the unit.
With the GPS and his prior trips there, we got there without incident. Jenny decided to keep me company, since I had asked her to help me pick out colors for the background. It is always good to get a second opinion, especially when you are not sure of your colors. After buying the paint and other art supplies, we went back to the car to drop Jenny off at 798. Then, Huang and I went hunting for good quality silk blouses for Leslie. Huang said he knew just the place. It was called “The Clothing Mart.” Once inside, I realized that this was a place for low priced goods, which had a large tourist trade. I knew we would not find what we wanted, but Huang suggested that we go further. It reminded me of the shops that were in the market near Michael Liu’s law office. We did find some custom made tailors, and they would make silk blouses to order. However, Leslie was in New York, so that option would not work. Also, I did not feel that the silk they were using was of the best quality. As we were walking out of the market, Huang said that the best silk in China comes from his hometown, and he said the quality of silk was not very good at these stores that custom made silk shirts. Then we went to find another store that would have ready-made silk blouses. We stopped at two other places and I could tell within five minutes that it was a waste of time. Then Huang told me that if I really wanted good silk blouses there were some department stores new Tienemen Square. That is what I initially suggested, but he said there was too much traffic and it was getting too late, so we decided to give up and go back home.
I did some more work on the Smash Series. I got a call from Lu Coral asking me about the Carribean. She was hanging out with a friend in 798. We decided that we would get together, so I stopped work at about 6 and walked outside the compound to the main quarter, where I was able to get a gypsy cab to take me to 798. When we were in 798 the gypsy cab took me to the gallery were Lu Coral was. Laurel, her friend, worked for the gallery and was running an errand. Right next to the gallery was the cafe where I had previously had lunch with Alessandro. The art in this gallery was very mixed. Initially, Lu Coral and Laurel, who had returned from her errand, wanted to go the cafe for dinner, because the owner of the gallery, who was Korean, also owned the cafe. After we got in the cafe, and in talking with the owner, I explained to them that I had eaten there the previous day and the portions were extremely small and it was very expensive and I knew of better places in 798.
We were lucky and found a really beautiful restaurant which was reasonable. We had a private booth, and the food was excellent. Laurel, who is quite fluent in English, had a number of questions. Half the conversation was in Chinese and half was in English. Then the three of us shared a cab. Lu Coral dropped Laurel and me off near where she lived. She was going to take a bus to get home and I ended up taking another cab to get back to 318. I was home by 9 and was able to do some more work on the Smash Series.
It was sunny, but still cold. I was able to do some work before Grace came over.
Initially, I met Grace at a beautiful restaurant located near the Workers Stadium. It fronted on a man-made river, which did not look clean, but the restaurant had some beautiful old art, and was very tastefully done. Lunch was elegantly served and excellent. Grace was talking with someone involved with the Tian Jin government, and they were discussing the installation of contemporary art in various banks in Tian Jin, as part of a joint venture with Grace’s Beijing Cultural Development Corporation. I just listened and was able to have a pretty good understanding of what they were discussing, but I said nothing because I was really interested in listening and I realized that they were discussing their own deal. After we left, we continued with the lunch. We then went to the Enchante Club to plan the installation. The Enchante Club is a two level establishment in the basement of the new Poly Plaza B1 Office Complex. It is brand new and very luxurious, with its own private park in front of the building. The Enchante Club is a combination luxurious health spa, restaurant, gym, etc. It has a magnificent 50 yard pool with its own bar. The restaurant is supposed to be a very high-end health food restaurant. Even though the facility had not yet officially opened, the restaurant was still full at 3 p.m.
While I was there planning the installation, I received a phone call from one of the packers. He was at my studio, but Mung was no longer there. It was after 4 p.m. He was supposed to come at 1 p.m. Apparently, Mung got hungry and went to get a bite to eat. Many phone calls later, I was able to get Huang to bring Mung back to the studio to open it up for the packer so he could give me an estimate of what it would cost to pack the sculptures to come back to New York and help pack up the other sculptures as part of an inventory.
Most of the installation was to be on the second floor entry way. There was a large bookcase broken into 40 sections. It must have been 30 feet long by 10 feet tall. We also looked at a number of the inside rooms as a possibility. My concern was that the inside rooms would not get enough traffic. There was also an interesting lighted space in one of the hallways, but it had wallpaper and the management thought that my sculptures needed a plain background.
Grace had arranged for an art magazine interview for me with the Zhong Guan Cun Magazine. She had also made arrangements for the use of a private room at the Enchante Club. Ming Xing was quite young and had made extensive notes on what she wanted to ask me. The interview was supposed to be for about 30 minutes. I was going to meet Michael Liu for dinner. Xing did not speak any English and she talked very fast, so I asked Grace if she would act as my interpreter, because I did not want to say anything that would offend anyone. Forty minutes later Xing was still on the first page of her notes. I didn’t want Michael to get too upset, so I called him and he said he would wait for another half hour. His office was five minutes away from the Enchante Club. I wanted to see how the interview came out and I asked Xing to send me a copy of the article and I would have it translated. Grace said that she would drive me to Michael’s office, which was just down the block. Michael invited them to join us for dinner, and we had dinner at the restaurant where Michael and I usually have lunch. Apparently, it is a very famous, spicy restaurant and both knew of the restaurant. It was good to see Michael again, and we had a chance to talk before Grace and Xing joined us for dinner, as they were parking the car. After dinner, I took a cab home. Within ten minutes Hong, my next door neighbor, stopped by to take pictures of some of my sculptures because she was planning a project for some other hotels in Southern China and they had seen images of my sculptures and were very interested in purchasing some of them. We talked some about her upcoming wedding and her mother’s concerns that she was marrying a divorced man with children in their late teens. Her father had been willing to meet with Richard and liked Richard very much, but her mother was being stubborn and not only did not want to meet him, but did not want to discuss him. She felt that it was losing face.
When I came back from dinner with Michael Liu, I noticed that a number of sculptures had been packed up. Mung must have anticipated that the packer was not going to work out, so she took it upon herself to start packing the sculptures. The only problem was that she forgot to label them, so I did not know what colors and forms were going to come back to New York. I previously segregated the 8 or 9 sculptures that I wanted to take back, including the three that were to go into the Sculptor’s Alliance exhibit. I took my best guess. One of the requirements of entering the show was that if they accepted certain sculptures, it was those sculptures that had to be shown. I did not want to go through unpacking nine sculptures that had taken Mung probably two to three hours to pack.
I was then able to do some editing of my images on the computer, speak to Leslie and make various calls back to the States before going to bed.
It was cold and raw in the morning. It was not the kind of weather that encouraged one to go outside, but I had to pack between 12 and 14 sculptures to take to the Enchante Club. Huang was right on time for a change, and we were able to load the sculptures two to three to a box to make it easier to take to the facility. I was supposed to meet Grace for the installation, but she was running late. Anticipating that Grace may not be able to make it, I made the decision to go to the club on my own and if and when she showed up, that would be great. Even though it is a major office building in a complex that everyone supposedly knows, we got lost because I did not know the precise address for Huang to enter into the GPS, but I got him into the general area and three stops and many questions later we were able to get to the facility. Finding the correct entrance was like solving a maze, but we eventually got to the front of the building. Although the building personnel were not happy, Huang, on my instruction, left the car in the front while I went in to make arrangements to locate the entrance to the Enchante Club and to have people help me bring in the sculptures and the installation equipment.
As initially planned, we unpacked all of the sculptures but two to go into the bookcase in the hallway to the second floor of the facility. After we got everything unpacked and installed the sculptures in the bookcase, the manager mentioned that they really belonged on the wall, so three of us each took a sculpture and marched down to the pool area on the first floor.
It is a magnificent area, and three blue and white “whales” would look good. There is a dark wall in a seating area at one end of the pool that would have been perfect for three of my blue and white whales glass sculptures. It could be seen not only in the entire pool area, but in the gym that was on the other side of the pool. Everyone thought the sculptures were beautiful, however there was a major problem. When we put in a hook to hang the first sculpture, the wall crumbled. It was apparently made of a very thin type of fiberboard that could not support anything. I tried to explain to them that if we could find a place where I could buy a toggle bolt, maybe we could hang the sculptures. The engineer said that the wall would not hold anything, so after 30 minutes we decided that we would not try to hang the sculptures on that wall. They did tell me that they were going to rebuild the wall in solid wood so that they could hang the sculptures in that area, because they looked so good there. I told them I would trust them on how to hang them, because I would be returning to the U.S. in a few days. I ended up spending four hours there going over other areas where the sculptures should go, because they agreed that they deserved to be on the wall so that they would be “swimming in space.” Two sculptures were set aside to go into the new Japanese room. This is a special combination private sauna for two people that is very luxurious and the sculptures were to be hung in such a way that while people were relaxing they would be looking at the sculptures. The construction was still incomplete, so it was decided not to hang the sculptures until the construction in that room was completed.
After coming home, I bumped in to Hong and she told me the plans for the restaurant to buy at least two and probably four of my glass sculptures. She said she was very tired, so I suggested we have a dinner celebrating her engagement and upcoming marriage. I suggested the new Sichuan restaurant where I had taken the Wangs. She said she loved Sichuan food, but heard that the food was not so good there. She said she had another place she wanted to go.
We went through the back roads north of 318 and came out to an area near where the new framing and flower market is. All of the land has been cleared. She explained to me that this used to be a very vibrant community, but the land had been cleared because the government wants to put up a huge apartment complex. In the interim, the restaurants in the area were hurting because the local people who used the restaurants had all moved away. Their specialty was a kind of boiled beef on a bone. You ate this with plastic gloves on. It was very messy, but very good. After dinner she said she wanted to come over and photograph some of the smash series on board, because the hotel was also interested in purchasing some of those. She had also come up with the idea of using the smashed glass as part of a design motif for dinnerware. I did not exactly understand what the end product would look like, but she had this idea she wanted to pursue. I was dog tired, and I wanted to finish the novel that I had been reading. I only had about 50 pages to go. After finishing the book, I spoke to Leslie and went to sleep, because I knew the next day would be pure drudgery.
Mung and I spent most of the day packing all the sculptures on the studio floor, organizing those sculptures and inventorying them. While we were doing that, I was visited by Alan from the landlord. Alan explained to me that I had to sign a lease before I left. I explained to him that I understood from the other tenants that there were some very onerous provisions that were objectionable. I went over those provisions with Alan and he basically said that I didn’t have to worry, that I should trust him. I said that trust is wonderful, but I wanted to see the lease and give it to my attorney to review. He said he would have it to me by the end of the day.
Mung and I decided to take a break from the drudgery. I had some more sculptures that had been broken in shipment to be used for the smash series. I got everything out and then smashed one and put it in the bucket and Mung said she would like to have the fun of smashing the next one. She liked smashing, so we took turns and we eventually got nine buckets of varying colors to use. During that period I also finished two of those sculptures.
Feng Jong, my fabricator, stopped by to deliver the new inserts. He had brought his young daughter with him. She is a year and one-half and is just getting used to walking. She was very curious and after a brief visit, he left to go home.
We were able to finish the packing and inventory at about 4 p.m, then Huang came by to take me to the New York BJ Restaurant/Art Gallery opening. I wanted to get there at the beginning, so if anyone came by that I knew I could talk with them. When I got to the restaurant Harvey Dzodin, a correspondent with the Global Times. He, Peter and I had a nice talk. Harvey had another party to go to, so he left. Five minutes later, Brian and his girlfriend, along with an artist from Iceland who was renting his other studio, stopped by to look at the exhibit.
After looking around, we sat down and Peter brought out a bottle of wine for us. There was cool jazz playing in the background. It was a nice way to have an opening, although I wished there were more people who were coming. Peter had done a low-key, word of mouth campaign to announce the opening. Subsequently, Lu Coral, Shen Jing Dong and Laurel came. They looked around at the exhibit. I asked Shen what he thought of the Chinese artists’ paintings. A look is worth a thousand words. Jing Dong and Lu told me that they wanted to buy one of my woodcuts. They asked how much, and I suggested that they come back to the studio and choose from the ones I had which were unframed, as there were slight variations in the texture and color. They said they would. I told Peter about the possible sale and then the four of us had dinner at the restaurant.
I had some type of Mediterranean eggplant appetizer that was sensational. For the main course Jing Dong was comfortable with an Indonesian noodle dish because it was the closest thing to Chinese food on the menu. Lu Coral and Laurel were more venturesome. I ordered Carolina slow cooked barbeque pork. I then shared it with everyone at the table and they all really liked it. We sat around with some more wine, and everyone had the wine except Jing Dong, because he was driving. He offered to take me home, since I was leaving the next day.
I suggested that he just drop me off in the Yan Jin area where it intersects with the Jin Ming Highway, and I would get a cab from there. Laurel also go off where I got off, because it was easy for her to walk to her apartment in 798. It was just a very pleasant evening among friends.
When I got back to the studio, I did some packing and some chores which needed to be done to close the studio while I was back in the U.S.
The day of departure is always depressing. There is so much to do, and so little time to do it. Mung and I still had some packing to do, as well as organizing the inventory. Hong stopped by to take some more pictures for her clients and to go over with me the plans in the restaurant and where I thought would be the best place for the sculptures. Mung brought some vegetables and dumplings to cook for lunch. I was really hungry and the dumplings and vegetables tasted great. We then went to the airport. Mung kept us company. Rather than leaving me off and letting me get the boxes to the check in area, they decided to park the car in the underground lot and help me. It is a long walk from the parking lot to the drop off area. We were able to get carts for the two large boxes with the sculptures for the New York show. We made the mistake of using the automated walkways, because of the bulkiness of the sculptures and the need to lift the cart up at the end of each of the sections. Unfortunately, we did not do it fast enough on one section and the rush of people behind Mung, who was pushing the cart, almost toppled all of the boxes on the ground. I had to yell to explain to people that they would have to wait a little and then we were able to take the boxes off, take the cart off and then for the rest of the way we by-passed the automatic walk ways. From then on in the check-in went smoothly.
I knew from my last trip, which I just made the flight, to expect long lines through security. It was no different this time, but I was able to get to the gate more than an hour before boarding time. The flight back was uneventful. For some reason, I did not sleep that well. It was good to get back to New York, to see Leslie and the rest of my family.