Brian Salter's Blogs:
Isn’t this Beijing’s most amazing up-market mall?


Casting my mind back to the days of yesteryear, it was when I was at university that I first came across the works of the celebrated surrealist artist Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech – a.k.a. Salvador Dalí. I had been looking for some free posters with which to decorate the bare walls of my accommodation and happened to be passing the office of French Railways on a day out in London. I had been walking into various national tourist offices asking them for some of their posters and was delighted when SNCF gave me a set of six by the then not-so-well-known Dalí.

My then-GF was very much into modern art and drooled over the posters; and I guess I will always kick myself for handing them over to her in a fit of generosity. Nowadays I think that virgin set would be worth a mini-fortune!

So what’s that got to do with Beijing, I hear you asking. Well last weekend I was taken out to lunch by some amazing people who told me we would be going to a restaurant in FangCaoDi (芳草地). “Where?” said I. “ParkView Green… you must know it!

But in my ignorance I didn’t … until we arrived and I recognised a building I had walked past many times (normally at night time) just ten minutes away from where I live.

I’d often wondered what packs of howling wolves were doing posing outside on the pavement, but after a while nothing really surprises you in this amazing city.

But once we were through the revolving door with a Miss-Piggy-with-Attitude posing seductively in the central display part…

… and having then passed a contraption that defied logic (was it a machine? a sculpture? a work of art? what on earth was it?) …

… not to mention a farting bull (which has been described – perhaps a little unfairly – as being possibly the ugliest statue ever unveiled) … well, I was already hooked and determined to revisit later in the week.

(If you read the blurb, the bull sculpture by Chen Wenling represents Wall Street. Actually it’s called ‘What You See Might Not Be Real’, which is meant to suggest that the Chinese economic bull can’t go on eating up natural resources without, well, letting off some toxic steam. Clever, what? The devil figure being pinned to the wall could be the Western world’s economy; or another interpretation is that it personally represents Bernie Madoff, who took pyramid investment schemes to a whole new level.)

Chen Wenling first gained fame for his 'Red Memory' sculptures, a series of oversized boys rendered in vibrant red lacquer. There’s a whole load of them here too.

But I digress…

Parkview Green FangCaoDi is one of China’s largest sustainable architecture projects. It’s a hotel, shopping and commercial hub which was the first structure in Beijing planned for sustainability. Designed by Hong Kong-based architects Integrated Design Associates, it features a floor area of 200,000 sq m, and was designed with energy efficiency as its number one priority. It is also the first of BJ’s buildings to make use of a 'microclimate' as a means of minimising energy consumption.

The building encases two nine-storey and two 18-storey towers in a transparent 'envelope', and the resulting 'buffer zone' is a contained environment within which the climate is relatively uniform. The structure has no air conditioning. Instead, the whole interior space acts as a solar chimney, with the 89m highest point of the pyramidal form drawing warm air up and out of the building. The office and retail areas are ventilated through underground ducts and in the summer, ventilation louvers – installed at the top of the envelope – allow the warmest air to escape, creating an upward flow. As it escapes, cooler air is drawn up from the bottom of the building, creating natural ventilation. Clever stuff!

Yes, but what about Dalí, I hear you pressing me. Hold on – I’m getting there!

According to one of ParkView’s web sites, “Parkview has supported Chinese art for the past 50 years and Chinese contemporary artists for over 20 years. Its art collection includes the largest Dali collection outside of Spain, numerous artworks by western masters, an invaluable collection of imperial Chinese stone Buddhist carvings and a substantial collection of contemporary Chinese art amounting to over 10,000 works.” I’m already hooked!

The next day I make my way back to PVG – and before I even head inside, I first do a tour of the outside.

How come I never noticed all the artwork surrounding the building before? Well, I guess bronzework doesn’t show up very well at night time; but here are a plethora of Dalí sculptures, one after the other, facing the street…

'Reina Caracol' from 1974:

'Reloj Blando', also from 1974, featuring one of Dalí’s signature melting clocks..

There’s even a rear entrance archway which certainly looks like it could have been a Dalí piece, but there is no sign, that I can see, to confirm this:

Further round the building there is what looks like an aircraft carrier suspended next the pavement, though again there are no signs to tell us what it is, or who it is by…

And back around at the front once more there are a couple of marching soldiers, which I think are by a famous Chinese artist, Qin Fengling:

Now, I hate to point this out, dear managers of PVG, but your collection of Dalí – though undoubtedly large (I counted 14 bronze sculptures, but there could have been more for all I know) – is certainly not the largest collection outside Spain.

With the exception of the Dalí Theater-Museum created by Dalí himself in his home town of Figueres, Catalonia, the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida – put together by Reynolds and Eleanor Morse – has the world's largest collection of Dalí's works, that includes 96 oil paintings, over 100 watercolours and drawings, 1,300 graphics, photographs, sculptures and objets d'art, and an extensive archival library. (I’ve been there, and it is a fabulous collection. Definitely a must-visit museum if ever you find yourself in Florida!)

But let’s not be ungenerous. For PVG is indeed an amazing place. I mean, how many shopping malls have you ever spent nearly two hours in, without going into a single shop? Join me now on the inside…

There’s no denying that the shops in the main cater for people with money, and plenty of it. As the old expression goes, if you have to ask the price of the items on display, you are probably unlikely to be able to afford them!

But you can happily forget the shops (though the restaurants are well worth a visit). Every nook and cranny of this space is taken up with modern art – not just the likes of Dalí, but very many international modernists and plenty of up and coming Chinese artists such as Chen Wenling, Huang Mingzhe, Li Chen, Yang Tao, Zhang Huan, Zheng Lu, Luo Jian, Ren Zhe, Fan Xiaoyan, Li Hui, Fan Yourong, Li Na, Guan Yong and Xia Hang, to name but a few. If like me you have never heard of most of these, it really doesn’t matter. That well-worn phrase “something to please everyone” surely comes to mind.

For instance, on the second floor you will come across works by Xia Hang, such as this ‘Roadbuster’.

Xia Hang was born in 1978 in Liaoning Province in China's far north, and graduated in 2002 from the Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts. The explanatory notes posted alongside read: "Without volume, a dot is the origin that is pushed to the edge of the universe; a line, meaning countless dots, the trajectory of dots, and a magnified dot, is a closed line and the boundary of space as well. It is the trace my fair tale left."

Errr, no, I have no idea what that means either! But there are other works by this artist, of which more in a moment…

How about Japanese artist Aya Takano, born in 1976 in Saitama? She specialises in Japanese comic and sci-fi characters. Here’s her ‘White Dog’ which is made of wood, styrofoam, cotton and cloth…

There are also regular temporary exhibitions showing, such as this one which has some of its exhibits on display in the 798 art district as well as here in a gallery on the second floor at PVG.

It’s not a big gallery (it opened in 2013 and covers a total area of only 338 sq m), but remember we are inside a shopping mall. There’s certainly enough to keep you occupied for a good 15 minutes or so

At the front you can see a doggie by Seungkoo Lee.

He’s quite cute in a static sort of way. Or how about Wei Kun’s ‘Elephant’? I’m not sure I’d want to part with 80,000RMB (£8,000) for it, but I guess it’s pretty clever…

If pooches and elephants aren’t really your thing, you could stare at some 3D art – here’s 'No!' by Zhou Ya Ling.

(I have to say, however, that I am not impressed by this piece. I actually have a computer program which was released as freeware over 10 years ago and which can create very much better stereoscopic pictures than this!)

Back to Qin Fengling again, and an acrylic of the Ba Gua diagram – or ‘arcylic’ as the caption insists on telling us...

And this, unfortunately, is typical of many of the captions to be found in PVG. If they do have an English translation, it’s a shame that no one has ever thought to copy-edit them. Many works, however, don’t even have a caption at all, leaving you to guess even who the artist is.

Although the majority of the art works are sculptures, there are a number of paintings to be seen, not least in private art shops that have sprung up inside the mall. There you are exhorted not to take photographs… Why, the very idea never crossed my mind!

Sometimes it is difficult to judge whether something is a piece of art, or is advertising one of the shops… but maybe it doesn’t actually matter. The coffee shop that this belongs to:

And the Deli-France that this Eiffel Tower belongs to:

are somehow enhanced by these simple artistic decorations. Everything just seems to fit in together and the essence of an art centre is enhanced by these simple advertising sculptures.

The blow-up monkey doll and the lotus flower that opens and closes periodically are hard to miss…

…while a display of cows hanging from the rafters might enhance the superiority that vegetarians may well feel about themselves!

There’s a side of PVG that calls itself ‘Parkview Arts Action’. This is an organisation that aims to use the power of art to raise awareness of critical environmental issues and inspire change among global communities. Their web site tells us that their “ambition is to support and encourage debate between arts, business and scientific communities, advocacy organisations and the public around environmental sustainability”.

Parkview Arts Action currently has a programme of biannual touring art exhibitions, the first of which is called ‘On Sharks & Humanity’, which features over thirty artists. The exhibition has already been shown in Monaco, Moscow and the National Museum of China in Beijing. Future exhibitions will focus on air and water pollution, as well as issues related to recycling. A mini-version of the exhibition is shown here and features works by ten contemporary Chinese artists, depicting humanity’s charged relationship with sharks (well, that’s what it says!).

There’s a foreword to the exhibition that tells the visitor: “Part of a holistic experience, it encourages the audience to overcome a fear of the unknown, challenge prejudices and understand this mysterious creature and its crucial role in the marine ecosystem. In so doing it compels the audience to turn from apathy to take action.”

All laudable aims, no doubt, but seeing some plastic blow-up sharks hung from the ceiling fail miserably in their attempt to affect your favourite blogger’s cynical view of the world, I’m afraid.

Not that it just contains shark-shaped balloons, of course. You can also marvel at the more than 70 pieces of transparent plastic that form the outline of a shark. ‘Don’t Copy II’, by Li Jiwei, is a four metre long sculpture suspended in mid-air and “illuminated”, we are told in all seriousness by, “with X-rays”. Oh come on! If they really must insist on using the Baidu Translate web site, they should try to do a little better than this!

The artwork symbolises the relationship between shark and humans, and offers a multi-level analysis on the value of life. The artist has represented the multiplicity of this anlaysis (sic) by using transparent materials. The concept has been combined with the spatial aspects of the piece.” (Does anyone actually understand – or care – what these words actually mean FGS?) “Don’t Copy II is an attempt to instil a respect for nature in people, and encourage them to analyse their own behaviour within society. By adapting our behaviour now, we could save ourselves from a future populated with clones.”

(Actually, I wonder if I’m the only visitor to think that cloning could well be the answer to the Chinese love of shark’s fin soup?)

Liu Zining takes a different approach. His ‘Looking at you looking at me’ painting of a shark’s eye is visually captivating, but again the explanation that “the indignant and sorrowful expression in the shark’s eye is intended to provoke us to consider the effects of our violent attitude towards sharks, humanising the animal’s emotions and encouraging us to view them as more than a violent predator,” leaves this visitor, at least, unmoved; and to be told that Liu’s “artistic style is expressed though the use of colour and perspective to explore visual power” makes me wonder what all other artists in the history of mankind have been missing out on all this time!

Xia Hang (remember him? We marvelled at his motorbike a short while back) is not so pretentious. Or maybe his publicists ran out of such epithets.

‘To Poseidon’ is a steel sculpture in which “the shark is portrayed as a war ship, a soldier of Poseidon, strong and resistant to attack. A sense of transience is evoked through the idea that the different elements that make up the sculpture can be disassembled and reassembled in a different form. In this way the sculpture is reminiscent of a toy, subverting the serious themes expressed through its materiality.” He’s rather cute actually!

Sharks aside, there’s plenty more to catch the eye in this amazing mall. The fact that I took over 200 photographs on this one visit is testament to that!

Standing proud on the ground floor, for instance, is this shiny character saluting to the passers-by. Alas we are not told anything about him.

But this clever piece called 'Empty Bundle' by Yang Tao has fulsome notes attached. “The artwork stretches through the entire height of the building producing a diverse range of visual experiences from different levels and angles. It uses thin silk threads to carry out a random temporal and spatial intervention into the exhibition spaces.

The artist describes with a nice degree of frankness the problems with its installation, with nine failed attempts: “What kind of viewing experience will be produced by bundling a ray of light in silk thread?” he asks. "For the work of art, execution became more important than the information it carried. The changes in thinking that took place in the bundling process transformed the original expression into an act with infinite threads. As the artwork neared completion, I wasn't thinking of anything and I had forgotten my original idea."

How refreshing!

I have to admit that my favourite piece in the entire shopping mall – called 'Beetle Sphere' – is by an Indonesian artist called Ichwan Noor.

The accompanying blurb tells us that this 180cm sphere is made from “aluminium, ployester (sic), print (I think they mean paint!), and real parts from a VW Beetle of 1953-vintage”.

Ichwan Noor, it turns out, specialises in mammoth sculptures of morphed cars; and this Beetle is one of a series of five spherical and cubed vehicles by the Jakarta-based sculptor. Way back in 2011, the artist created a VW made into a perfectly angular cube. The piece was voted “favourite artwork” at the Indonesia Art & Motoring Exhibition; and one of his cars on display at an exhibition in Hong Kong sold for $88,000 shortly after the show opened.

When you look at the morphed shape of the sculpture, it’s pretty hard to believe this was ever a road worthy car. The amount of metalwork that he must have employed is amazing. Even small elements like the tail lights don’t protrude from the shape of the sphere.

For me, this has to be the epitome of art!

Subway Line 6 to Dongdaqiao exit D2; walk to the traffic lights and cross over Dongdaqiao Road before venturing south for 200 metres.