Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Shanghai Social Diary

Multi-generation families from around the world visit the Pearl Tower.
by Jeanne Lawrence

SHANGHAI – The Zendai, in the suburb of Pudong, is the city’s cutting-edge art museum. I went there to see a solo exhibition by Yang Fudong, one of the established contemporary artist, with a group of well-connected friends — media art collector Pam Kramlich, art lover Peter Hansen, Brazilian artist Eder Santos, and curator and collector Sarina Tang, who had arranged for a private tour of the show with the curators.
The Zendai Museum of Modern Art is in Shanghai's Pudong District. Sarina Tang, Jeanne Lawrence, and Eder Santos tour the Zendai.
The Zendai is located in a mixed-use development complex.
Fudong is also a video artist. A highpoint of the show for me was his installation called “Dawn Mist, Separation Faith,” which consists of nine 35mm black-and-white-films running simultaneously. The footage was inspired by vintage films set in Shanghai, but the scenes were surreal — and pulled you into the action.

“I call it ‘Marching (on-going) Film,’ kind of treating the process of filming itself as a film,” explained Fudong in his introduction to the exhibition.” On the one hand, it is a multi-screen film and on the other, it also possesses the feature of video installation from the cinematograph itself.”
Artist Yang Fudong's 'Dawn Mist Separation Faith' solo exhibition.
The video installation projects nine 35mm films.
'The General's Smile' -- a multi-video installation.
My house guest Sarina, who’d flown in from Beijing, especially enjoyed “The General's Smile." Said Sarina: “This piece takes Fudong’s work into another dimension. The narrative surrounds an aging general, and the banquet recalls his last supper, portraying him in his humanity as the process of aging discards the symbols of power and military authority.”

Getting to the Zendai involves a trek across the Huangpu river and the locale is memorably unmemorable, a community plaza filled with stores, but it’s a must-see for contemporary art lovers who want to keep up with what’s going on in China.
View of the sculpture garden.

Since we were in Pudong, we decided to lunch at the Park Hyatt Shanghai, on the 91st floor of the 101-story World Financial Center, aka ‘The Vertical Complex City.’ At the moment it’s China’s tallest building.

We sat beside one of the six the open kitchens with its wood-burning fireplace and enjoyed pondering the extensive menu of Chinese and western dishes.
The 101-story World Financial Center on the left and the 88-story Jin Mao Tower. Another view of the WFC in Pudong, Lujiazui, the business district.
Driving down the main Century Avenue in Pudong.
This is where I take my friends who only want the best. The hotel is new, the décor elegant and sophisticated, the cuisine fresh, light, and beautifully presented, and the views spectacular when the weather is clear, which it often isn’t.

Indeed, the day was gray but we could still make out the Oriental Pearl Radio and Television Tower, built in 1994. Though it’s a popular tourist attraction, I discovered none of us had yet visited.

“We can’t leave Shanghai without going there,” I said. ”That’s like living in New York and never having visited the Statue of Liberty.” So off we went.
At the Park Hyatt we're greeted in the lobby by more art. The first time I saw such an extravagant bouquet of Lotus blossoms.
One of the many places to eat at the Park Hyatt.
Jeanne Lawrence, Peter Hansen, Eder Santos, Sarina Tang and Pam Kramlich.
My lunch -- Barbeque Plate with Roast Duck, ginger garlic rice and vegetables.
We didn't leave hungry.
The Park Hyatt is sleek, sophisticated and modern. Our view of the 88-story Jin Mao Tower.
A plaque gives us a thought for the day.

So had a lot of others. There was a long line at the entrance of the Pearl Tower and then another long wait for the elevator to the top, which offers a 360-degree view of the city.

Shanghai is flat and from up here, the city seems to go on for ever. Part of the viewing floor is made of glass, and those that have the nerve stand on it. I could only manage a toe for a second before getting vertigo.
Over three million people visit the Pearl Tower annually.
The Oriental Pearl Tower - Shanghai's Statue of Liberty. Posing with 'Haibao' the Mascot for the World Expo 2010 (May - October).
We topped off the afternoon by taking the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel, a train ride under the Huangpu River, and in fact the quickest way to get from Pudong to the Bund promenade.

The tunnel is like an amusement park ride — clear capsules hurtling through a tunnel lined with blinking strobe lights.

From there, we walked the block to the terrace at New Heights Restaurant to rest, sip a drink, and enjoy the ground-level drop dead views of the city, river, and Pudong.
We didn't expect that there would be a second line too.
Jeanne Lawrence, Pam Kramlich, and Peter Hansen.
Standing on the glass floor and looking down was a bit scary.
Across the river, you can see the famous Bund promenade under construction.
I'm still not sure what part is smog and what part is haze.
The other side of Huangpu river is Puxi (West of the River).
On another floor is an amusement area for the young ones.
The Bund Sightseeing Tunnel is the fastest way to cross from Pudong to Puxi.
It feels as if you're on a carnival ride with the blinking strobe lights.
The light at the end of the tunnel.
Afterwards, a drink and a view from New Height's terrace.

One of the great pleasures of living in Shanghai is seeing so many of my friends from the U.S. pass through, such as Patty and Henry Tang, who came with an entourage from the American Friends of the Shanghai Museum.

As President of the Board, Patty plans the group’s many Asian adventures. Last year she took them to Tibet, and this year to Yunnan Province, in the southwest of China, and the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan.

You can read my column on Lijiang in the Yunnan Province here.
Shanghai Museum. The shape was designed after a Chinese bronze cooking vessel.
What makes these trips extraordinary are the Asian experts who accompany the group—people like Maxwell K. (Mike) Hearn, the Douglas Dillon curator of Chinese paintings at the Metropolitan Art Museum, and Terese Bartholomew, curator emeritus at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum.

Shanghai was the last stop on that trip, and I joined the group to tour one of the city’s gems, the Shanghai Museum at People’s Square.
Friends of the Shanghai Museum from New York visit. A Chinese painting that was studied intently by MET Curator Mike Hearn and Patty Tang.
You can’t miss the Museum as its exterior has the shape of a traditional Chinese three-footed cooking vessel (a ding), a round dome upon a square base, symbolizing the ancient Chinese notion of the cosmos, a square earth beneath a round sky.

Mike, who speaks Mandarin, guided us through the galleries, directing our attention to the most important objects. Otherwise we would have been overwhelmed by the vastness of the collection — 120,000 works in 14 state-of-the-art galleries.

The display of ancient Chinese bronzes, ceramics, painting, and calligraphy is encyclopedic, but one prize bronze is visiting from America. New York financier Leon Black, and his wife, Debbie, have lent the museum from their collection. I’m know the museum would love to own it.
Later, the museum’s top brass hosted a V.I.P luncheon in the private dining room, and per Chinese tradition, toast after toast was made.

Don’t miss the gift shop, which is stocked with reproductions of works from the museum. I come here to buy Chinese art, history, and travel books as there is a huge selection in English.

The jewelry, porcelains, scarves, and bags are also tempting — and, thankfully, you don’t have to bargain.
American Friends of the Shanghai Museum are feted by the museum heads.
Mike Hearn, Shanghai Museum Director Chen Xiejun and Patty Tang.
At the museum bookstore I stock up on books in English. The Gift Shop.

On their last night in China, the Friends, with me in tow, headed to Jesse Restaurant (Jishi Jiujia), which is popular among locals for classic, home-style Shanghainese cooking, which has two “secret ingredients,” sugar and alcohol.

The restaurant only has 15 tables, so there’s often a line, but the food is worth the wait. I love authentic Chinese restaurants like Jesse, but I always go with a Chinese friend so I know what to order, otherwise I’m baffled. On this occasion, our guide Cindy Shi had preordered the house’s signature dishes in advance.
Though the Friends loved their taste of Shanghai, after three weeks of exclusively Chinese cuisine, I’ll bet they were ready for a good old American burger or Cobb salad when they arrived home.
The group's tour of Bhutan and China's Yunnan Province ended here.
Dinner at Jesse, a Shanghainese restaurant, where the locals eat too. Chris Mao, of NY's Chambers Fine Art, with artist Wang Tiande.
The guide selected special Shanghainese dishes.
Shanghainese food - a tasty and spicy fish dish.
The next day they headed back to the U.S.A.

People always ask me, “How do you meet people in Shanghai?” Here’s how: Through friends.

I no sooner told my pals that I was moving to Shanghai then they were inviting me to look up their friends in the city. Lucia Hwong Gordon told me to be in touch with Barbara Edelstein, an artist whom she knew from high school days in Los Angeles.

Then one evening, before I had had a chance to contact her, Edelstein turned up at my table at Cathy Hau’s charity event. Our mutual friendship with Lucia allowed us to break the ice quickly.
Hongkou District - former International Settlement, formed by the American and British Concession.
Clockwise from above: Entrance into the pedestrian street, Duolun Lu; Shanghai Duolun Museum of Modern Art; The quiet street is a reprieve from the traffic outside the gates.
Duolun Lu, dotted with villas, was once a writer's colony.
'Ink Art Today' - the exhibition at Duolun Museum.
Artists Jian-Jun Zhang and Barbara Edelstein live between NY and Shanghai.
Writer Jeanne Lawrence and Barbara Edelstein at the Duolun.
Barbara, and her husband artist Jian-Jun Zhang, a Shanghai native, divide their time between Shanghai and New York, where Jian-Jun, teaches at New York University in both cities.

Her work was in the “Shanghai New Ink Art Exhibition” at the Duolun Museum of Modern Art, opened in 2003, the first publicly funded modern art museum in mainland China.

I had never been to the Doulun or even to the Hongkou District in the former International Settlement, where the museum is located. It just seemed so far away!
But when the Barbara and “J.J.” – as he tells we foreigners to call him as his name is difficult to pronounce – invited me to join them at the Duolun, I jumped at the chance.
Barbara Edelstein, 'Breeze Part 2' an installation of Chinese ink drawings with 3 videos.
Many young people visit the Museum.
More works of art upstairs on the second floor.
Barbara’s “With Breeze Part 2,” is an installation of Chinese ink drawings mixed with black and white close-up videos of leaves, vines, or branches. “My work is about meditation, getting the viewer to look at nature, and focus on the small details and movement created by the wind,” she told me.

I enjoyed the tour. The museum, like Barbara’s work, invites contemplation. And the surrounding neighborhood has its own rich past — in the 20s and 30s, the literati lived here — but that’s for a subsequent story.
A view to the outside world from the Museum's second floor.
Photographs by Jeanne Lawrence. New York based Jeanne Lawrence reports on lifestyle and travel from her homes in Shanghai and San Francisco, and wherever else she finds a good story.