Mary Boone has jumped on the China bandwagon, so I guess that scene is definitely over. To her credit, she has gone right to the top with a gaudy installation by radical (and cuddly) Chinese art leader Ai Weiwei, Olympic stadium designer and protester of the China oligarchy.
The contradictions inherent in Chinatown were enhanced again last week by another crackdown in Tibet and news in London’s Daily Telegraph that the Chinese government was exterminating all the cats in Beijing as a "health precaution" in advance of the Olympics. Pictures emerged on the net of middle-aged Chinese women rescuing as many as 300 cats each, only to be led away in handcuffs by the authorities. Kind of adds a new ugly meaning to those stuffed animals at the Guggenheim.
Ai Weiwei’s fallen chandelier, made of red beads and gold tubing and titled Descending Light, is yet another spectacle filling Mary Boone’s Chelsea space to the max. Mary has removed the comfy sofa in the back to make room for the work and poor Ron Warren is pinned to the wall. The chandelier, in its fallen space, can be read as a cornucopia or horn of plenty. Thus China is collapsing under the weight of material success, or having so much fun that things are falling from the ceiling, or about to scavenge gold from the wreckage of the West.
The piece is both heavy and witty, but after the initial jolt, you won’t care very much, for Ai’s chandelier also highlights what is missing from the whole China art fandango: subtlety. My sense is that, in the great sum of things, art will matter very little in the place where China is going.
Ai Weiwei, "Illumination," Mar. 8-Apr. 26, 2008, curated by Karen Smith, at Mary Boone Gallery, 541 West 24th Street, New York, N.Y 10011.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).