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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Life as Exhibit

Holland Cotter writes:
The Museum of Modern Art’s multistory atrium seems designed to hold monuments. But at the moment it’s filled with the distinctly ungrand contents of one person’s everyday life.
The person is, or was, Zhao Xiangyuan. She was born in China in 1938 and died in Beijing in January. For nearly 60 years she lived in the city with her husband and two children in a tiny house crammed with domestic odds and ends — clothes, books, kitchen utensils, toiletries, school supplies, shopping bags, rice bowls, dolls — which were used, then recycled, then indiscriminately hoarded. Now the entire cache, every odd button and ballpoint pen, is at MoMA, along with Ms. Zhao’s fridge and bed.
How did it get here? Ms. Zhao was the mother of the artist Song Dong, one of the most inventive figures in contemporary Chinese art. He is often referred to as a Conceptualist, meaning an artist who trades as much in ideas as in materials. And it was he who had the idea of turning the contents of his mother’s home, which was also his childhood home, into the installation titled “Waste Not.” It is at once a record of a life, a history of a half-century of Chinese vernacular culture and a symbolic archive of impermanence.


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