Friday, April 10, 2009

Nostalgia for 1980s New York in Beijing

From the Times:

What’s interesting about “Ai Weiwei: New York Photographs 1983-1993” at the Three Shadows Photography Art Centre, in Beijing, is that the Americans I know who have visited the exhibit, particularly those born and raised in New York, tend to focus on the location photos: the raw, grimy East Village sidewalks; Tompkins Square Park with its anti-gentrification protesters and drag queens; shirtless students at St. Marks Place; the bums on the Bowery and the gritty sidewalks and graffiti-covered subway cars that inspired “Stranger Than Paradise,” Jim Jarmusch’s 1984 film set partially in New York City. They are drawn to them precisely because they induce feelings of nostalgia for 1980s New York.

But Chinese visitors viewing the exhibit, most of whom have never been to New York (or America, for that matter), tend to focus on the Chinese people in the photos. Where the typical American will focus on how much Times Square has changed from the 1980s to now, the typical Chinese viewer looking at that same photo will focus on what looks like a Chinese immigrant sitting on top of a taxi.

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