Friday, September 17, 2010

The World's Best Flea Market? It Just May Be.

Kerry and I love shopping in crazy outdoor markets when we travel. Often we don't buy anything, it's just the atmosphere that is authentic and electric and the possibility that we could find something special that makes it so cool. So when we read about Panjiayuan we knew it was a must-do for our stay in Beijing.

It was impossible to really capture how big and sprawling this place is. Over the ages it's been added to, and it shows. One section will be blanket after blanket, row after row of people hawking various wunderkammer and antiques (although most are fakes). Next to that you might find three stories of row shops housing jade sculpture, or maybe musical instruments. Then rows, and floors of furniture. Then you will find artists by the dozens if not hundreds followed by even more fields of other sundry crafts and antique-this-and-that. But it is the art I need to elaborate on. China, and Beijing more specifically, surprised and impressed us yet again. While there is a lot of calligraphy and ink painting that one would expect to find from Chinese artists in stalls, the oil painters and sculptors were as surprising as they were talented. Much of the subject matter seemed to be split between various communist themes and image studies of China's cultural past including portraits of minority figures and weathered streets. There are some famous and successful artists coming out of Beijing's art world and the most successful of them are in many cases being directly copied by some of the younger or less successful artists. While some were direct copies, others took painting styles and themes and came up with twists all their own which in some cases was absolutely brilliant. We ended up buying a few of those paintings and spent hours going through the hundreds and hundreds of amazing oils which were at prices that made you almost feel guilty of stealing. Here is a quad-shot of our four favorite artists we ran into. The older master had both booth and a shop and in his shop displayed a truly massive stretched oil painting of a Chinese ceremony of some sort which was rendered so well, and was just so beautiful it would have been a show stopper in any museum in the world. We had no idea where we would show such a painting or how to transport it for that matter, but whatever he was charging it was worth ten times more I'm sure.

One curious thing I noticed was that at several of the row end caps people were selling pairs of walnuts. I'm sure you've all seen the "Chinese Health Balls"sold in random shops in the US before. They are usually chrome or enameled with little chimes inside that you roll in your palms for some esoteric benefit. Well, here, those balls are definitely sold, but what seemed to be more popular were these walnuts. They seemed to like the ones that were really round, about the same size, and heavily pitted with very deep pores. They made a very unique grindy-slidy kind of sound as someone walked around rolling them this way and that in a palm as they perused the stalls.

That night we wondered back the 798 district for a nom-tastic dinner at a pseudo-Western cafe filled with local art figures and ex-pats from France and elsewhere. Before calling it a night we wandered with no direction through the galleries and surreal sculptures found everywhere on the grounds tucked in corners, hanging off of buildings and in some cases in your way. Many of them are large fiberglass pieces painted in a solid coat of high-gloss red.

One artist in particular that blew my mind into little bits of happy was the brilliant work from Xian Yang, a Chinese artist living in the US. The solo exhibition was made from sculptural images often including multicolored strings creating transformative outlines connecting one shape to another. The work centered around this gigantic sculpture portraying the interdependence between China and the US.

It was nice to see the 798 district at night because it really came alive. During the day it is a fairly placid place, but at night, there are concerts, art openings, and a lot more foot traffic with people milling about and sitting amongst the sculpture strewn alleys and courtyards.

1 comment:

Skye Seaborn Art said...

Thank you both for taking the time to share your thoughts, emotions, and pictures! I love everything!!

love mo