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Gigi Chen

by Charlie Finch
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There are a lot of things I dislike about the New York Times, but its China coverage is not one of them. Every morning, over an espresso, I rivet myself to a few NYT updates on the China scene. Lately, however, this has included reams of paid advertising from the Chinese government tied to the 90th anniversary of the Communist party and featuring musings from longtime China apologist and cult philosopher Robert Lawrence Kuhn.

Thus stimulated, last week I sat down to watch hours of the China conference at the National Governors Association in Seattle on CSPAN, in which U.S. governors of both parties begged and cajoled Chinese provincial governors for business. The visiting Chicom dignitaries presented Disneyfied film pitches for each of 24 Chinese provinces, complete with amazing montages of roaring rivers and clean, colorful high-tech factories.

Generally, the Chicom pooh-bahs were evenly divided between fat, old style Tammany bosses and Western educated corporate dynamos whose personae easily mimicked the antidemocratic American corporate suite. To see a Democratic governor like Missouri’s Jay Dixon beg for Chinese attention was all too typical of the sycophantic vibe of the conference. The only bit of dissent came from Democratic Governor Jay Abercrombie of Hawaii, who called for visa liberalization to facilitate business exchanges. Nothing about Ai Weiwei and his imprisoned fellow creators, of course.

Washing myself off, I got out of the house and up to Spanish Harlem for a studio visit to the 27-year-old painter Gigi Chen. Gigi was born in China and came to New York as an infant because her parents dared to defy China’s one-child policy by (gasp!) having two girls.

She instantly turned into a veteran New Yorker, graduating from the High School of Music and Art and the School of Visual Arts. For almost a decade, Gigi has helped fabricate work and run the studios of artists Su-en Wong, Kathleen Gilje and Paul Waldman, while doing commercial work with her 70-year-old studio mate Glenn Palmer-Smith, best friend of comedic legend John Cleese. Among other things, Gigi was a contestant on Jeffrey Deitch’s 2006 art reality TV show Artstar.

See how one Chinese is somehow superior to one Chicom-dominated, U.S.-corporate-mimicking China? Normally, Gigi’s insane Red Grooms-style work is not my cup of tea, but with her, I make an exception, because I see her robot bunnies making war/love on the young couple in her work as a metaphor for China, late capitalism and the techno muckfest around us.

Gigi grins at me and says, "Charlie, this work is about my relations with my family" (that would be a family of two billion, right, Gigi?). Her key trope is a robot bunny which comes alive, kind of a reverse of Spielberg’s masterpiece, A.I., filling the human subjects in her paintings with a chaotic ripple of domestic bliss. These paintings may not be for everybody (although Gigi is), but I find them irresistible. If every Chicom bureaucrat owned one, each an absurdist mirror of conformity, the prisons would open and artistic freedom reign!

CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).