Archive | February, 2011

Ningbo Art Life

20 Feb

To my shame, Art Bytes has shown little activity in the last five months. My excuse is that I have been busy settling into my new life as a teaching fellow at the University of Nottingham, Ningbo China Campus.

Today, I decided that I would visit Ningbo Art Museum to find some inspiration for my return to blogging.  The first exhibition hall felt like a giant travel advertisement for Ningbo. There were several rooms filled with photographs of workers, maps, and before and after shots of building sites that illustrated the last five years of Ningbo’s rapid development. There is nothing wrong with being proud of the cities expansion and progression into a modern and commercial hub, but is an art museum really the appropriate venue for this type of promotional activity?

The second exhibition hall included landscape paintings in styles similar to French Impressionism, yet certainly not in the same league. Most of the works were awkward in brushwork and choice of colours. One painting of a racetrack, left me straining to imagine how the jokey could win a race on the back of what looked like a rocking horse. In another painting of a seascape at sunset, the boats seemed not to be sailing gently across the ocean but rather, sinking slowly and forlornly into a pit of quicksand. I rushed through the rest of the streaky yellow and blue messes and hoped that the third gallery would satiate my taste for a juicy piece of contemporary art.

Around the corner was a long room hung with Wuzhu coins (the old form of Chinese currency) framed in glass, dated from BCE and beyond. What is the connection between currency, Ningbo tourism campaigns and paintings of farmers tilling the soil? If the landscape paintings were of traditional life in China prior to industrialization, I could read them as a tribute to the past. However, they were representations of European wheat fields, not rice terraces. Is my confusion a case of cultural difference, or the result of random curatorial decision making? I must admit, I cannot read Mandarin,  but I am doubtful the descriptions of the exhibits would increase my enthusiasm or understanding of the premise of these disjunctive collections.

In the taxi home I looked out at the new apartments encased in bamboo scaffolds with crane appendages stretched to the sky. I wondered where, hidden amongst all of this chaos, is the Ningbo art scene being constructed?