At least three hundred stylish people waited in the largest gallery of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, a major museum in 798 Art District. The crowd included editors, art dealers, gallerists, and celebrities and most of them were perspiring.
Native son, Terence Koh, had returned for a live performance. One could see from the eager faces that Koh is something of a superstar. Was it that he designed the piano that Lady Gaga played on at the 2010 Grammys? Or was it his appearance in Out Magazine’s “Out 100 People of the Year” in 2008? Perhaps it was that he gold-plated his feces and sold it for $500,000.00 to collectors? Most of all, it must have been that he was born in Beijing.
The doors finally opened about an hour late, but the audience was still ready to lap it up. The media and others rushed in and surrounded the figure lying on the ground under a pile of salt. There were still too many people around for me to get an up close look. He lay that way for at least twenty minutes, which seemed like such an eternity that most of the people left, thinking they already had witnessed the entire performance.
Eventually, seeming a bit like a mummy coming to life, he began to rise. The mobs then parted like the Red Sea and he slowly began marching out of the museum. Everyone followed eagerly as if he was some spiritual leader bringing us to salvation or a party with free champagne. His face was painted as white as his outfit, which was apparently from Comme des Garcons. Some in the crowd remarked nervously that he had already led us out of the area of 798 Art District that is officially sanctioned for art and they worried that the police might soon arrive to break up the entire performance. But the white performance was allowed to continue.
Koh just kept walking, wearing a very serious expression at all times. He must have been laughing inside though. How could one not find it amusing to have so many sacrificing their Sunday afternoon to follow and excitedly photograph a diminutive young man painted white walk past some construction sites. It caused me to reflect much on what I was doing with my life and how insignificant I am compared to the mighty Koh. Finally, after he veered right just before the exit of 798, the crowds were asked to stop following and just admire Koh disappear into the concrete sunset, which was filled with several curious migrant labourers.
I reflected that it was in many ways a very storybook contemporary Beijing afternoon and probably one that I would remember. The Koh performance seemed to have accomplished its goals.
Photographers: Tang Xuan and Mao Zhenyu
Courtesy of UCCA