That Tea Tasting Party

It has almost been months since my visit to the Solomon Guggenheim. A friend and I queued 10 minutes under the cold winter sun in New York City. It was a pleasant wait really. We chitchatted a bit about why people have to form lines to get into museums and my rather ridiculous experience of sneaking into MoMA during the free night with another friend. And the visit was more than enjoyable: the works by Agnes Martin spiraling along the corridor, Maurizio Cattelan’s golden toilet that everyone was hoping to take a dump in, other permanent collection pieces, and of course, Tales of Our Time, a much anticipated group exhibition by artists from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Mainland China, or as described by Guggenheim itself: “Tales of Our Time is not a monolithic report on the state of contemporary art in China, nor does it encapsulate any artistic trends or phenomena. Instead, it highlights the unique aspects of each artist’s perspective.”

It was a rather mild and gentle exhibition filled with the usual Asian artistic temperament one could expect, retrospective and slightly nostalgic for my taste. But not until when I received the newsletter from Guggenheim of a particular event of the exhibition, did I realize that I need to write something about it.

It is an article on a tea tasting event, made possible by the artists group Yangjiang Group as part of their work Unwritten Rules Cannot Be Broken. The article draws a thought-provoking insight into the event, its environmental settings such as the bamboo stand, the round wooden tea table and the stools, the porcelain tea sets, and the oolongs and pu-erhs that created an unearthly utopia right by the side of Central Park that is located in the lousy Upper Eastside filled with wealthy people, fanatical shoppers, tourists, and museum goers.

I was surprised at just seeing the title: How come the event was not present during my visit to New York? Then I realized that it was probably there: “Unwritten Rules Cannot Be Broken takes place from 1:30 to 5:45 pm every Wednesday through March 8, and is free with admission. For more information, visit the calendar.” But the setting was there when I visited. The discrepancy got me seriously intrigued, not only because I was not part of an event that aimed at bringing the Zen out of you, but more at the fact that it was supposed to be a tea party that welcomed ordinary visitors to appreciate the beauty of tea and the serenity of life amongst all the hassles.

However that singular event may have been, the participating crowd during that particular day seems to me far from the ordinary.

Of course, One will always have to clarify what “ordinary” means. But that concept of clarification might easily fall into the brackets of a tedious pedagogical process of the art history. And one could always argue that the ideology of the ordinary could simply be the reflection of an imprudent understanding about existing classes of human society.

Artists have spent decades trying to create works that are more appealing to the masses. Movements such as L’Arte Povera initiated by Italian artists Michelangelo Ristoletto etc., which was an attempt to de-canonize the status of the existing artist elites, some of which had once been doing exactly the same things decades prior to that such as when Dadaism just started to have people’s attention.

What is interesting about the art world is that many have struggled to make a living out of what they are doing. Once they are able to do so, their oeuvre starts to lose its original stance and discourse as an artwork.

The then Poor Art is now worth millions of dollars, placed in the museum storage, once a while exhibited around the globe, worshiped by the so-called pilgrims of the art. If you think of the whole journey of contemporary artists as an essay that one has to complete before a certain deadline, you would compare the references or quotations in an article to the details or inspiration of artwork created.

The point is that either the readers of the essay or the audience of the artwork don’t always have the interest to explore the stories or histories behind the observed, thus making the whole point of the studies pretty much lukewarm.

There have been many examples where art critics had attempted to give meaning to different artworks, especially after the time of Dadaism, when artists started to defy the “traditional” definition of beauty and art.

All these arguments might sound merely relevant to where I started regarding the experience I had in Solomon Guggenheim in New York City. Why would an exhibition in the year of 2016 be remotely related to an art movement almost 200 years ago?

It’s the sheer fact that the fancy part of an artwork, in my case, the tea tasting ceremony, was not present during my visit, as if the I and the visitors alike have been intentionally filtered through certain criteria that I am not “Elite” or “Extraordinary” enough to appreciate an artist group of my own culture background. Not to mention the kettle was not even filled with water, in the case of which we would be able to sever ourselves if available.

The pretentiousness and ostentatiousness of the art industry have come to a point where an impression is everything.

It is no longer important what the artwork is trying to say rather how incomprehensible the work could turn into, so long as someone is able to make up a story of it. Often times when I go to museums, art fairs, and biennials, I find it extremely difficult to explain to my accompany what exactly the works showcased are about. It’s because the works presented and the words by the curators sometimes contradict each other or do not necessarily compliment one and another. Or it could be times when I find the writings of the curators to be absolute nonsense or an attempt in vain to make sense.

Or most of the times, the writings of curators turn out to be way beyond literacy of “ordinary people.” The high-frequency appearance of French of Latin makes the already obscure texts even less comprehensible.

The worst is that the art business does not seem to care about the exclusivity that it cast by those types of rhetorics. It feels as if the art market never existed among the masses and it never will.

All these artists and art historians, having spent time trying to make the whole world convinced that art is or is meant for everybody, now seems completely delusional and out of reach.

The art industry has chosen to exist in this way, and it probably will continue to be. It’s only that the hypocrisy of the idea to make art accessible is making me sick.





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