Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Painting Seized by Chinese Customs; China Detains Graffiti Artist

From Artforum

Birds Nest, in the Style of Cubism, a painting by Zhang Hongtu, is now at the Lin & Keng Gallery in Taipei, awaiting shipment back to New York, reports the Wall Street Journal’s David d’Arcy. The ashen-brown piece shows the gleaming new Olympic stadium, designed by the Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron, as Picasso might have painted it—as a decaying ruin rendered in fragmented angled forms. On the canvas, cubist-style, are inscriptions in English letters and Chinese characters: TIBET, HUMAN RIGHT, and the Olympic motto, ONE WORLD, ONE DREAM. The painting was supposed to be in Beijing during the Olympic Games, in the exhibition “Go Game, Beijing!” organized by a Berlin marketing firm and displayed at the German Embassy. But it was seized by customs on arrival and denied entry as “unacceptable” for its color, its depiction of the stadium, and its inscriptions. The artist, Zhang, has lived in New York since 1982, when he left China to study at the Art Students League. His work, which blends Chinese and Western styles, often satirizes Chinese political icons, as when he put the image of Mao Zedong on Quaker Oats boxes. Speaking about Zhang, Jerome Silbergeld, a professor of Chinese art at Princeton, said, “This is part of his own dialogue with China and the Chinese government, and he got an answer.”

The Wall Street Journal also reports on its blog that James Powderly, an American graffiti and laser artist, has been detained by the Chinese government. Powderly was planning to debut a new “laser stencil” in Beijing that would have beamed words and images up to three stories high onto large flat surfaces such as billboards and building facades. On Tuesday, Students for a Free Tibet received a message that Powderly had been detained since 3 AM, his whereabouts unknown. Previously, the group that Powderly founded, Graffiti Research Lab, was disinvited from a group exhibition on new media art at a Beijing museum. In a statement Powderly said he was “proud to have been kicked out of the ‘Synthetic Times’ new media art exhibition in Beijing because he wouldn’t censor his little art project.” Powderly’s work still managed to be seen in Beijing, albeit on much smaller (and briefer) scale. Last night, a group of five activists affiliated with Students for a Free Tibet used one of Powderly’s inventions, LED “throwies” to spell out FREE TIBET in English and Chinese in Beijing’s Olympic Park. The five were detained by security personnel after displaying the banner for about twenty seconds.

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