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Omphaloskepsis Blog

China adventure, in search of an artist.

Aug 1, 2013


I enjoyed again this solemn sight, serenity and peace.
A deep breath. O, the joy of being tiny!

-Chen Chi


Gala Opening in Old Metropolitan Opera House, N.Y. 37 x 72"  

A couple of weeks ago my Chinese Wiki page appeared. Which prompted the realization that I still hadn’t posted about my trip to and exhibition in China. It was a tremendous honor to be one of 16 American artists invited to participate in the 5th Beijing International Art Biennial. While in Chengdu, I was riding in a taxi with some Dutch tourists, we got to talking. They of course wanted to know what I was doing in China and I told them about the Biennial, (it was the easiest narrative). They were VERY impressed. “I know,” I said, “there are some really famous artists in this thing. I have no idea what I’m doing here. I think they made a BIG mistake.” That got a good laugh.

I did meet and befriend wonderful artists, lovely people, from around the globe. But the real urgency behind my trip to China was to honor my husband's family. My husband’s late Aunt Agnes and her spouse, Harry, my husband’s grandfather. Although I never met Harry, who died when John was young, I did develop a friendship with his widow, Agnes, and I adored her.


In this picture Harry Vrymoet is third from the left, between Chen Chi’s wife Alice (sister of Jiang Zemin, president of China 1993-2003), 
and Chang Dai Chien. Chen Chi is third from the right, Agnes is far right. I’m sorry, I don’t know who the other people are.

When I visited the museum in Wuxi China, the curator, Mr. Zhou, told me that the United Nations Relief and Work Agency assisted Chen Chi. The UNRWA was founded after WWII and one of the functions is to provide human rights and humanitarian relief. I don’t yet know the connection Harry Vrymoet had with UNRWA, but, according to Agnes, he was asked to help Chi, Agnes didn’t specify by whom. Harry, who lived in Brooklyn, NY, sent Chi money and helped him when he got to New York. The Wuxi curator suggested that Chi, who arrived in 1947 for an exhibition, was unable to return once the cultural revolution began.


One of the things I did to prepare for my trip was to watch Zhao Jiping film “To Live” which taught me about about the cultural revolution before during and after. It gave me some context.


Harry never lived to see the opening of either of Chi's museums, one in Shanghai and one in Wuxi. But Agnes often spoke about Chi, and his friendship with Harry, when I visited her. Before Agnes died she gave me all of his monographs and some personal correspondence. She very much wished she could've attended his museum grand openings with Harry.

ChiPainting2.jpg     ChiMonograph.jpg


One day John's father, Jules, showed me the original 1946 correspondence between Chi and Harry. I know this kind of documentation is very important in the history of a significant artists like Chi. Coming to America was a turning point in Chen Chi’s life and career. So, when I was accepted to participate in the Biennial, it was my chance to pay respect to Agnes and my husband's family. I made archival copies of the original letters, and had them notarized.


While planning to attend the Biennial, I went on a quest to gift these copies to the two Chen Chi Museums in Shanghai and Wuxi. It was a great deal of work to contact these museums, to find them. Alice’s son, John assisted me some, and friends of my friend Ricardo Guzman went way out of their way to assist me. Ricardo’s friend Sunny Lieu, a Shanghai/Hong Kong attorney helped me contact the Shanghai museum, set up an appointment, took me there in a car with a translator. Unbelievable generosity. That's how this trip developed-with the help of friends, introducing me to friends and setting up contacts for me in China...guanxi...I was able to get to these museums, make friends, meet key people, have a phone, and experience the culture. I'm grateful and happily indebted to those who assisted me.


Tai-hu, Wuxi 27" x 55" 1973 by Chen Chi.

I’ll be writing in more detail about my travels and the Biennial in upcoming posts.


Wusih! my home-town!
Outside the city, not far from home,
Lies the great lake, Tai-hu,
O, so beautiful!
In the sunshine, thousands of silvery sparkles,
Tens of thousands,
Twinkle all over the calm water.
To the very horizon.

Silk, rice vegetables and
So much delicious food:
Shrimps, snails, clams, crabs...
From the lake and river;
Many kinds of fruit,
Peach, pomegranate, loquat, lotus seeds and roots...
And sweet watermelon.
From the land-hills and fields.
O, the fine chwstnuts, they have the fragrance of the blossoms of
Sweet olive that grow in the valley of Wei Shan.


You may also want to visit the next blog in the China series: China adventure in a nutshell http://katevrijmoet.com/main-menu-pages/blog/china-adventure-nutshell/

Tags: Museum, China
Category: Biennale
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