In the National Museum in Beijing I saw these three beautiful statues of serene Buddhas from the Ming period. The symbiosis of Buddhism and ceramics has to be seen to be believed. I was especially impressed by the large and colourful porcelain Buddha (photo below), whose buffed surface looked like any of the decorative Ming vases in an adjoining hall. If it were not for the serenity radiating from the face and fingers of the right hand held in the Karana mudra, warding off evil, I would have had a tough time guessing who this represented.
We nearly did not go to the museum; three weeks is not a long time in Beijing if you are also in meetings most of the time. The museum is not billed as one of the must-sees. After our visit we thought it is unfairly neglected. In any other city it would be one of the star sights.
The immense building has eight large exhibition halls on each of its four floors, and more in the basement. We knew we didn’t have time to see everything, so our list of priorities was based on an abstract idea of classical Chinese art: ceramics, paintings, statues and jade. Each of these collections was enormous. We missed much, and we plan to visit the museum again when we come back to Beijing.
M50 on Moganshan Lu in Shanghai is a collection of galleries, studios and spaces which house art and art projects. I was afraid I would never find it without google maps, but then I searched the web and someone on Tripadvisor had left precise and accurate instructions on how to reach this place. We arrived at noon and had a quick lunch at one of the cafes before starting in.
China has a thriving art scene, and M50 gives you a quick cross-section of the work being done. Quite a bit of it is not new, but there were gems tucked away in several of the galleries. In the middle of a gallery with very decorative colourful canvases I was blown away by three incredible abstracts.
Paintings were only one of the many kinds of media on display. There was also a large amount of porcelain. Some of it used older techniques, but there were some pieces which used the new high-temperature glazes: some of these colours are brilliant. I had an interesting chat with one of the artists about techniques and kilns. There was a time when I’d wanted to learn ceramics, but discovered that it was hard to get time on kilns in Mumbai. This conversation made me wonder whether it would be worthwhile establishing a small kiln at home.
We walked through a maze of lanes and wandered into a small cafe which had a barista doing great artwork in cappuccino. As we sat there and destroyed her performance art, we saw a fashion shoot in progress. I did some ambush shooting during this (see photo above). Art districts involve all kinds of things.
My current off-work passion is photography. This seems to be a small niche in M50. We walked into a studio which called itself “The Dark Room”. It was manned by a crew of enthusiastic youngsters (see the featured photo) who showed me their dark room behind the shop. This brought back nostalgic memories of my school days when I was associated with a bunch of others in maintaining a small dark room in a little attic in the school. This had the same enlargers, development tanks, baths of developers and fixers. The kids spoke good English and we had a long enthusiasts’ chat about our first cameras which left The Family with glazed eyes. The kids had never heard of the camera models I started with. That’s a generation gap for you!
Back in the shop we saw some lovely prints. These are by the master photographer who is training the youngsters. We bought a couple of them: they seem to transfer the sensibility and aesthetics of chinese painting successfully into this modern medium. I would love to keep them on my wall and look at them again and again.