Despite my resolution to stay away from Shanghai I found myself there yet again this past weekend. There is just so much stuff going on all the time there. While last time was more literary and humanitarian focused, this trip was all about the arts.
Let me start with a back story. A few weeks ago a chinese friend and I were shopping at Uniqlo. They have a whole series of Warhol shirts and he chose one to buy. “You like Warhol?” I asked him as he tried it on.
“Never heard of him,” he said. Then added, “Remember Becky I’m not as old as you so I don’t know the artists that you knew as a kid.” (My friend just loves to point out our age difference in the most annoying ways possible. But I got the last laugh as not knowing who Warhol is shows off his ignorance way more than my age!)
So, when me and this friend decided to go to Shanghai together, and I heard there was a Warhol exhibit I knew we had to go. My friend Hannah joined us.
It was in the cool-named “Power Station of Art.” A former power station turned museum it was a perfect place for a gallery. All stark and grey with huge ceilings and unique lighting it felt like some fancy Soho gallery or something. And they had all of Warhol’s iconic paintings, drawings and photographs along with some of his lesser known pieces. All together there was about 3 large gallery rooms filled with his stuff and several photo galleries.
Or almost all of Warhol’s iconic pieces, I should say. Noticeably absent was his Mao portrait. Some reports say it was banned by the government, others say the organizers decided themselves to be sensitive as it was the first time Warhol’s works have been exhibited in China. Either way, the Mao portrait will be on display at other asian locations, like Tokyo and Hong Kong but not at the Beijing and Shanghai exhibits.
So what’s the best thing after spending a few hours looking at art? Well, making your own of course! So in the afternoon the three of us went to Paint and Sip, a small studio in the back alleys of the French Concession. Provided with paints, canvases, good music and glasses of wine, we got to explore our own creativity for 3 hours. The studio had plenty of photo, paintings and pictures if you needed inspiration, and a teacher to offer advice. But I decided to freestyle it.
I’ve been more and more inspired by dragons, as they are not only an important part of Chinese culture, but my chinese zodiac and my Chinese name as well. So I decided to paint my own flying dragon. My one friend, inspired by a chinese tile mosaic she saw, decided to do almost a hundred tiny ceramic tiles. (In three hours she only got half finished.) My other friend, perhaps inspired by Warhol, did a portrait.
I’m no artist, but I love painting and the whole thing was just fun and relaxing. My final product is cute enough and will look good hanging up in my home.
But then there was a problem I didn’t think about. Getting it home. Going home included a subway ride, train ride, another subway, then taxi, then bus, then local bus. Quite an epic 3-hour journey. And I had to lug a wet oil painting with me?!
Luckily the studio had a special traveling box to pack the painting in. Unluckily the box had a big opening in the middle (for air flow?). As we were walking the streets, the wind picked up and dust blew into our paintings, landing, and sticking, all over the middle. I decided to walk with the hole facing my legs, to try to protect the hole area, but then a big gust of wind blew and pushed the box against my leg getting paint on my pants. Oil paint. And because I had hours before I could change, I managed to get the one little patch of paint on my pants all over me, including my shirt and hands. I should not be trusted with hard to clean materials.
Then, as I went through train station security, I put the box face up. (My friend was smarter and put it faced down.) The heavy plastic flaps at the ends of the x-ray machine fell into the opening and smeared all the paint in the middle and got it all over the outside of the box (and now that I think of it, probably on the luggage of whatever sucker was behind me.) So then I managed to get more on my hands of course.
On the subway home, my friend made some gestures with his hand, and dropped his subway card on the floor. Or so we thought. We didn’t see it on the floor. Turned out it fell inside the box and stuck to his wet paint! He managed to get it out as delicately as he could, but it still left a big mark.
But stupid boxes aside, it was a great weekend. And if anyone is in the Shanghai area I would definitely suggest going to the Warhol exhibit. I’ve heard Shanghai is trying to become more of a world-class art city, but it’s hard when the government has final say on all galleries and exhibits. But this is a good try and I hope it is a success to encourage more interesting exhibits in the future. If nothing else my friend now knows the meaning of his Warhol shirt.