Saturday, June 15, 2019

Beijing, 2019-18: Bowie by Rock + 1000th Post!

TB and I made a return trip to 798 Art District in north-east Beijing specifically to see the Bowie by Rock exhibit I found on one of the Beijing expat what-to-do websites. At around 100 RMB (15 USD) it's a bit pricey but 798 has become quite trendy. Still, for a pair of big fans of arguably the most important figure in rock music, it was definitely worth it. And it didn't disappoint!

David Bowie asked Mick Rock, then a fledgling photographer who became "The Man Who Shot the Seventies"--including Lou Reed's iconic "Transformer" album cover, and the Debbie Harry "Madonna" shoot--to accompany his Ziggy Stardust tour with complete access. The exhibit includes 65 awesome photos curated by the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle that are an amazing document of the time as well of Bowie's mercurial personality and artistic transformations.

The exhibit was very well put together, with Bowie music playing constantly, though at a level that enhanced rather than distracted, and some other nice touches, such as a "universe" room playing "Space Oddity".

When the kids had killed the man I had to break up the band...

I think my favorite photo from the exhibition is this one, even if black-and-white, three iconoclasts of glam-rock (or just rock) music, David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed.

The final gallery is just a wall containing all of Bowie's album releases--and I have owned the vast majority of them at some point in my life. Today you don't even own albums, you "have" them on iTunes or Spotify or whatever-that-is. You can tell I'm not really into the latest techno-stuff, I guess, because I'm still blogging. One thousand posts and exactly eleven years later.

I saw an interview once with Alanis Morissette, an unironic pop singer, who was asked by a rather stuffy host who her musical influences were. Her answer was "My older sister's record collection." I thought and think that is both a charming and insightful answer, because my own musical tastes were largely influenced by my brothers--Pink Floyd, The Who, Doobie Brothers, Edgar Winter, Jimi Hendrix, even Elton John.

I was only formally introduced to David Bowie by freshman year college roommate, Tracey G. One weekend in 1979, he brought Aladdin Sane from home and we went to the library (the only place we knew with a turntable) put on headsets and listened. Though just about every song on that album wowed me, "Panic in Detroit" was a tone poem to subversion that made my heart race. He's been my crack'd actor ever since.

That was, almost incredibly, forty years ago!

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Beijing, 2019-18: 798 Art District

The 798 Art Zone is set in a decommissioned military/industrial complex developed in joint between the Chinese and East Germans in the early 1950s, the height of the Cold War. After it was abandoned, artists and other outsiders started moving in, and today it is a vibrant (but perhaps overly-fashionable) community.

My first visit last year was with TB, his mom and his partner JX.

Some early stops turned out to be among the best, such as an exhibit by Bingren Zhu displaying "Molten Copper Art".

It's a cool scene, lots of chill restaurants, impromptu performances and nifty scenery.

A key reason I wanted to visit was go to Mansudae, the studio representing art from North Korea (I mentioned earlier looking for a Korean connection). You know you're there when you see the "Chollima" 천리마 statue, a smaller version of the one in Pyeongyang:

The sculpture symbolizes the DPRK's speedy rebuilding of the country following the war, and depicts a worker and a peasant being carried forward by the "thousand-mile horse". Sadly, I got virtually nothing decent inside, as the eagle-eyed docents forbade photography. Aside from the sculpture below, there was a really nice painting of Dok-do 독도 (aka Takeshima 竹島 aka the Lioncourt rocks).

Of course, more sadly, I note that North Korea continues a level of human rights abuse, mismanagement of resources, and corruption that will impoverish, malnourish and kill its populace for generations to come. Meanwhile, 45 crows about receiving "beautiful" letters from the third generation murderous tyrant. What a disgrace!

Blog note: This is post #999 on The Seoul Patch.

Beijing, 2019-18: National Art Museum

I've visited this museum (free entry--but like everyplace you go, you need to produce your passport) twice, and there is now a dedicated subway stop on line 8. The first time, most of the galleries were closed for new installations, so I mostly enjoyed the sculpture garden on the grounds. As you would expect, mostly it's Chinese imagery, but the first thing you see is probably Salvador Dali's "Saint Sebastian", shot full of arrows.

Still, the statuary is largely martial:

… though a few pieces strikingly illustrate the horrors of war:

It's 2019. The CCP and Chairman Mao took power in China in 1949, 70 years ago, and NAMOC is celebrating with an exhibition of Beijing-focused artwork spanning the era.

The exhibit meanders through several galleries on the first floor, and contains numerous collages and some really beautiful pieces. That last is "Seventeen Arches Bridge at the Moment of Dusk" (count 'em!)

A couple of intriguing detail shots, first of some elderly men in the park, and the second a recent painting from Wang Guanjun's "Juvenile Adventures Series".

Finally, a few shots from the permanent collection of classics on the third floor:

Just a reminder: if you really like a pic, click on it to see a larger version.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Beijing, 2019-18: Ancient Observatory

Come out of Jianguomen sta Exit C and turn right. Soon you'll see this wall, topped by some ancient naked eye astronomical instruments. The Ancient Observatory dates back to the fifteenth century, costs 20 Y to enter, and is a must-see for anyone with more than a passing interest in science. In its exhibit halls, English explanations are as voluminous as Chinese!

For the visitor, the site is best thought of in three parts: the grounds and gardens, the exhibit halls, and the observatory tower. The grounds are beautiful, at least in June, and include busts of important scientific figures, some measurement devices, and gardens, entered through a traditional circular gate. Those busts are of Ferdinandus Verbiest, a Belgian Jesuit missionary; Yi Xing, Tang Dynasty inventor of an armillary sphere; and Zu Chongzhi (429-500 AD), who calculated the value of pi to seven decimals and elucidated the concept of precession of the equinoxes.

There is a second garden with larger scale instruments:

The exhibit halls are each manned by a solo--and lonely--docent, who is friendly but mainly silent. One hall focused on astronomy per se and the heavenly bodies.

Some key ancient measurement devices are included and explained, including a cart measuring linear distance (the figure beats the drum after a specified distance has been covered) and a clepsydra (a water clock), actually first invented by the Egyptians, as far as we know.

But my favorite instrument is the one below. It's missing a key feature, though--each dragon should hold in its jaws a metal ball, perched above the those open-mouthed frogs. This is the first known seismograph, sometime in the second century: in the event of an earthquake, a ball or some balls will be shaken loose and drop into the frog's mouth. This tells the direction, distance and magnitude of the quake. Remarkable.

The observatory tower is no doubt the "money shot" of a trip to the Beijing Ancient Observatory. It was decommissioned in 1927 and is now a museum, but the platform still has several instruments including a celestial globe, armillary, and altazimuth. 103 steps lead up (pictured is the first flight) and the docent/guard certainly expected me to ask her to take my photo.