I had what can only be described as a surreal time over the weekend. On Friday, I was introduced to J, a Chinese gallery owner and curator who holds court on the floor above my workplace. At least I think he’s Chinese. J speaks upwards of five languages, uses (I’m guessing) a Europeanized version of his name, and is so widely traveled (he immediately recognized the Swedishness of my shoes) that he doesn’t seem ethnically tied to any one place. I chatted with him nervously for an hour and we made tentative plans for me to help him out over the summer. You never know with courtesy introductions if a rapport will actually pan out, but lo and behold, when Saturday rolled around he wanted to take me to an opening. The place in question was a quick walk and cab ride into the heart of the French Concession. It felt like I had fallen into another dimension! A really sophisticated, glimmering dimension.
Hong Merchant is a 1920s villa on a quiet lane that has been reinvented as an artists-in-residence program and gallery. Every few months, a new Chinese or international artist gets the opportunity to live and work in this amazing space. The idea is to create new and organic art in Shanghai, as opposed to merely exhibiting old work or importing pieces to show. The current artist is Christian de Laubadère, a longtime expat and Gascony native. Laubadère’s best known works are elegant paintings of female necks using charcoal, lead, authentic Chinese materials, and smoke to create that mysterious black backdrop. At the moment, however, he has a series of photographs of Chinese porcelain transposed onto the smoky canvases – éclats de porcelaine.
The art was almost an excuse for the experience itself. The proprietress of the gallery swept in wearing a complicated, sexy but not flashy ensemble in all black. Her unstudied European elegance would be repeated many times that evening. Locals and expats alike – from France, mostly, but also Taiwan, Honk Kong, Scandinavia, Poland, and Italy, circulated and switched effortlessly from Chinese to English to French. Everyone was dressed expensively but subtly ( a major contrast to the normally flashy Shanhainese style). The wine was good, to my untrained palette. The hors d’oeuvres looked a bit too sculptural to eat. Guests glided rather than walked amidst the slightly fetishy orientalisme of the exhibition.
My ramblings are in an attempt to capture this strange moment in my life. For a long time I imagined one day being surrounded by sophisticated, cultured people…the art world. Often it was just a concept. The best way to describe the crowd is that they’re the people you know exist but never meet outside of features in Vogue and Vanity Fair. Yet there I was. I was Alice and J was my white rabbit (though clad in all black, from his spring scarf to his Louis Vuitton shoes). Amidst the cheek kissing and feeling at once alien and completely normal (though kind of excited to go home and put sweatpants on), I realized that this is in fact the world my projected career would have me live in.
And I was fine with that. I was excited! But I don’t want to be a society person. Art for me will always be emotional first and foremost (I say this so much I think it’s starting to sound trite). It’s fun, it’s social, it’s – sigh – a business, but it’s a monumental and life changing love before all else. I know posts like these sort of highlight how incredibly young I am, how overly idealistic and probably naive. That said, I’d like to remain an outsider…at least a little bit.