i went with my godmother's son alex ("weiwei") to see the private chinese paintings exhibit of the dai family at the ritz-carlton hotel in downtown crossing. he came to pick me up, we drove out to chinatown and found a place to park right across the street from where i used to work. since neither of us had ate yet, we decided to get some food at the taiwan cafe. the place was surprisingly busy for this time of day (sunday 2pm). there was an empty table for 4 but the hostess wouldn't let us sit there because we were only 2 people, which got alex mad so we decided to go elsewhere. the noodle alcove had better service, and little did i know but alex apparently is a regular there, saying hi to everyone as we came in, from the guy making the noodles, to the waitresses, to the owner. we got the "usual" table, and the boss lady came around to chat with alex, giving us free cans of coke. she remarked how he hadn't been there in a while, he noticed she had grown out her hair, she saw that he had new glasses. we both ordered the beef noodle soup (with knife-cut noodles). while we waited, alex was reading the chinese newspaper and was ecstatic that the kuomintang party won control of the legislative body in yesterday's taiwanese general elections. when our order arrived we ate. for some reason the noodles were especially good today, maybe the few scoops of hot sauce i added had something to do with it. the owner continued chatting with us while we ate, asking alex where she could post apartment rental listings (craig's list of course). i ended up treating, which was no treat at all since the food's already so inexpensive.
we were instructed to remove our coats before we could go inside the function room on the 2nd floor of the ritz-carlton hotel. i took out the camera from my jacket even though no photography was allowed, since the coat check said she wouldn't be responsible for any lost items. a row of elderly chinese ladies sitting behind a counter greeted up, which served as the impromptu gift store as well as the admission desk. while alex was paying, one of the ladies told me no photos when she saw my camera. i told her i didn't want to leave it outside, and another lady said i could take photos of the painting copies behind them. another lady asked if i was a college student. "yes," i said, hoping to get my admission reduced to $6 instead of the $10. "what college?" she asked. "umass, umass boston," i answered, my ability to lie a bit rusty. alex added, "we're art students." the lady seemed even more delighted, and pulled out some pamphlets for me to pass out to my friends, about an upcoming art show at MIT this coming week. the ticket girl asked to see my student id for verification. oh no, busted! "oh, he doesn't have to do that!" said the older woman, "he's a student! can't you see? you look like an art student." i smiled and thanked her, then took my ticket and went inside with alex.
these chinese masterpieces had been in the dai family possession for 4 generations. all from the 19th and 20th century, not only were they from chinese masters but also paintings from imperial court artists of the qing dynasty. names like qi baishi, zhang daqian, or fu baoshi meant nothing to me but they're big names in chinese art, with one of their paintings auctioning for $2.5 million last year. of those big threes, i like qi baishi the most, who's paintings of insects have a scientific accuracy to them, none of the busy brushwork style characteristic of most chinese paintings, but rather the insects are carefully "drawn" with fine lines, nearly photo-realistic. there were also historically significant art works as well: two calligraphy scrolls by yuan shikai, the first "president" of the chinese republic (1911), and a painting of a pair of birds (i recognize them as some species of jay) by the empress dowager cixi, who as a courtesan had naturally studied painting. the people in attendance were for the most part chinese, but a few curious white devils had managed to wander in as well.
these paintings were on public display not entirely for the enrichment of chinese art lovers. it seems that members of the dai family are also avid followers of the falun gong movement, and they were using their art collection as a venue to also increase public awareness over the plight of falun gong practitioners in mainland china. so in an adjoining function room were more paintings, but they were all related to falun gong. some of them were actually pretty graphic, showing people being tortured by government officers. there were also people walking around with official looking badges who seem to be a combination of art historians and falun gong spokespeople. although nothing was forced upon the viewing audience, i did feel like there was some level of subterfuge, that some how my art was mixing with politics.
we drove back to belmont, where alex let me borrow some dvd's from his house, then he dropped me off at my parents' place for dinner. i told my mother about my travel plans and she projected it'd cost $10k to pull it off. after dinner i got a ride back to cambridge, counting the hours before sunday is officially over.