This is an Art-icle
by Arabella Green
I always enjoy walking around Dashanzi on a sunny day. The tranquil pace there, the abandoned industrial architecture, the steam venting from huge metal pipes... It reminds me of my days at boarding school.
My first stop on my leisurely tour of the art district took me to the Dong An Gallery, dedicated to providing high-cost unchallenging Chinese art to foreigners. Most of their customers, says owner Pauline Zhang, are "middle-aged European women with dyed hair, who like to have something with more cachet than a jade dragon statue to show to their friends when their husbands' companies move them back home from China. You know, the sort of people who can talk about table settings for three hours."
Just outside, I interrupted a conversation about a recently-bought jade statue of a dragon to ask Munich-born Inga Bortholm, 52, what she thought of the Dong An Gallery. "I think it has much very interesting art to buy," she said. "Whenever I want to spend an exorbitant amount of money on something to decorate my house and make me feel clever, I come here. Last month I bought a lovely oil painting of a girl in traditional dress playing a flute of some kind. It looks wonderful next to my wooden Burmese candlestick holders." Inga is well aware of the thought-provoking work being created by some of China's modern artists and wants "absolutely nothing to do with it".
Going a little way up the street, then retracing your steps because you've missed the turning (it was partially concealed by a tree), turning left, stepping over half a navy surplus boat carcass and climbing an iron staircase, you can find the BigTrak gallery and studio. Here, things are decidedly cutting edge. When I went there last week, BigTrak were showing a collection of installations by Wu Jian, an artist from Jiangxi province. Each installation was based on the theme of "futility in a modern age, with rabbits". I have to say, I felt profoundly moved and a bit giddy.
I spoke to gallery owner Guo Aihong. How, I asked , does a gallery like this keep up with the white hot bleeding edge of the contemporary art scene while still turning a profit? "It's difficult," she replied, "but normally manage to sell just enough pieces to foreign buyers to keep in business." Why not tap the surely much larger Chinese market? "We did try to get into selling art in which local people would be interested, but it turned out that we really couldn't compete with the established traders in reproduction prints of tigers, mountains and shrimp."
In the meantime, look out for Wu Jian's current performance art project. In a bid to highlight the plight of Beijing's migrant worker population and their struggle with employers who often deprive them of their due pay, Wu has embarked on a four month project in which he stalks the outlying districts of the city. Having located a lone migrant or other unwary individual, he beats them soundly about the head with a pole and makes off with the contents of their wallets. To keep the performance exclusively "in the moment" he records the act in no way.