Insults and banter at Wuhan Tiandi’s latest art exhibition

A conversation between avid art lovers in Wuhan Tiandi's latest exhibition


First of all I kindly thank my modest friend L. H. H. (the mysterious art lover) who allowed me to reproduce here the talk we had. His ideas are the best part of this article. We saw, at different times, the same exhibitions, described at the end. We then met for one of those ceremonious tea parties, where conversation is the greatest pleasure. Chinese intellectuals allow themselves to talk more than ever, making sure that their carefully chosen guest will challenge their mind and share their ideas. I hope this kind of writing, where a vivid speech replaces narratives, might appeal to the reader.

“Little Kids Great Artists” Exhibition
31 May- 17 June

Entrance of the kids art exhibition near the entrance of the mall.

L. H. H: You were charmed to see this collection of children works, weren’t you? I was impressed by the firmness of the composition and how they mastered the technique of the colorist. On top of those two qualities, mandatory for every artist, some of those apprentices smartly imitated the Chinese style if they were mature enough to understand it.

Very typical chinese flower with wonderful shades of blue.
Tree branch and a poem again, impossible to be more Chinese.

G. L (Godefroy Lepy): I was indeed charmed by their naive imitation and I hope they become trained artists in the future. But I am afraid they only copied great masters’ works. You are admiring the beauty of a ghost, what is left of a masterpiece after a clumsy copy.

L. H. H: You are judging kids as if they were little adults. I precisely expect them to express themselves with this lack of technique, this liberty they will have to lose with time. Also, what is wrong with copying masters? They left us a record of what is beauty; should we pretend we know what drawing is better than our fathers? 

G. L: Qi Baishi invented nothing then? What he shows us is not different from this Qing artist’s visions you like so much. 

En example of this Qing artist 細井徇 who drew very vivid animals and plants.

L. H. H: QI Baishi I dare say, changed our way of looking at the world. But please notice he knew classical drawings better than both of us and he was not a child all his life.

G. L: I see you are bored of talking about children. You know I am fond of them: they are the very image of innocence.

L. H. H: Indeed, they are only little brutes, cruel and without mercy. More often than not they are tormenting weaker than them. I am glad I saw only their works, and not the authors! Alcoholics, psychopaths and perverts can write very tasteful and solid prose or compose delicate music: why could children not draw? 

G. L: So did you like this exhibition?

L. H: Whether I liked it or not is irrelevant. I would just say I felt this “museum anguish”: a feeling of an overwhelming concentration of beauty and imitations in the same place. You know those museums where every space is filled with a masterwork.

Here is another example of a Western misconception: why would you pack together all  the greater works of your nation? Are you afraid of missing one of them? I can see here a disastrous illustration of your greed of possession. You should know better, and a single masterpiece, alone and solemn in its glory, is worth all those walls covered with different worlds.

Why are you amused? (I was indeed smiling at the idea of a museum with only, let us say, ten statues in ten rooms. The thought of such an empty gallery sounded like an absurd joke). You are only laughing at your stupidity. Or maybe the strength of your will is phenomenal? I must confess I am tired after half an hour of your museum. How can you admire at the same time a dozen works, each of them being designed to strike you and literally open your head like an ax blow? 

A. L: (I was still shocked by the insult) Maybe you do not know western art enough to enjoy it.

L. H. H: And maybe you know it too well. One of your fellow country men understood what I am talking about very well. (In fact, Paul James is British but for this pompous Mandarin, all Westerners were sharing the same and obscure country). You saw his Hidden Design Exhibition, didn’t you?

The long poster is covering all the wall so you can not miss the tiny exhibition 

G. L: I was lucky enough to visit it with the artist himself and I was delighted to meet him. You know I also had the chance of meeting an author recently. Both times, I felt this special thrill of learning more about the arcane nature of art. The exhibition itself is very small but he explained to me it was mostly a practical problem: money, space and time were all not enough. He is in fact a very rare case of an artist with ideas and who thinks and I am not surprised he is the one supervising this collective work. 

You can see, beside people, photographs on the right wall and the (back then unfinished) large drawing on the left.

L. H . H: You seem to enjoy human contact with artists too much. You know how different they can be from their work! Moreover, what your are calling “practical problems” seem to me very theoretical if well considered. A real artist is the one who can use the tools and the means he has at a precise moment to realize what he wants us to see. Nevertheless this group of students and teachers succeeded to create an appealing work on a subtle topic.

G. L: This exhibition, with only one drawing, photographs and a video, is then enough for you?

L. H. H: Enough for what? Art? I do not know what you mean by this word. What I admire in this exhibition is how they incorporated the little intricacies with the big. Small details of architecture or massive urban shapes, everything shaped by humans is a blurred detail of the universal beauty and they managed to seize the charm and variety of this city.  

The little hiding in the big details of a door.

G. L: I see now that you are a follower of foreign fashions and behind your Chinese knowledge I can see a western mind.

L. H. H: Although I traveled to your country more than once, all I know about the West is from books. I am as much a Westerner as you are an Easterner. 

My stupid revenge worked and he seemed, not saddened, but annoyed by those words. Very precise rules must be followed if one wants to be considered as a tea master. One of those rules was to frequently change the topic of a chat, since common words and conversation always fail to convey personal ideas and experienced feelings. We then talked for hours about more interesting subjects, and we vexed each other a couple times again: our friendship does not take seriously those little fights. All of this happened in Chinese, a tea gathering being a non translatable ceremony: I must again thank L. H. H. who was patient enough to help me choose the best words to paint his thoughts.