Where you live and what you collect

Recently there are more times than I can realize that I speak of Brooklyn, the borough where I live, not only because it is huge in terms of both land and population, but also because I feel strong sense that Brooklyn should be differentiated from Manhattan, which people associate with fast-pace life-style of rude and indifferent trendy people.

Based on Kenneth Jackson, the professor and scholar at Columbia University, as many as a quarter of all Americans can trace their ancestry to people who once lived in Brooklyn’s 81 square miles. It is here that I began to learn of Dutch Colonial living and expanded my knowledge of Victorian architecture, because the borough, with its more than 400 neighborhoods provides the best textbook ever for anyone who wants to indulge in American culture and history.

Non-Brooklynians can hardly appreciate Brooklyn, partly because the name itself brings ones of the dusty memories of industry declination and racial strife & violence, partly because there is simply a more glittering attraction on the other side of the East River. (Carey in Sex and City moaned that even the cabs don’t go to Brooklyn. Well she is wrong.

Sitting here facing Prospect Park, I wonder how the course of my antique and art interest would have meandered if I were living in Manhattan. First of all, the apartment would be much smaller. Thus what can be deployed around the rooms would have to be more limited. (A recent article from NY Times actually mentioned some yuppies’ happy story ending in Brooklyn Heights where they hosted parties in such “roomy” space that made their Manhattan friends jealous.) Secondly, it will certainly change what “should” be collected.

Of course any object, as long as size permits, can fit in rooms of any style. The question is whether it is appropriate or what is appropriate?

What is an appropriate style for Manhattan apartments? I don’t have a firm opinion on that.

As much I am energized (or sometimes annoyed) by the crowd in the city, as I am sometimes tired of its somewhat ominous architecture. The architectural history of modern Manhattan is a history of negation, a denial of the value of past, a murder of aesthetic souls. (Having said that, I do think the gruesome demolishing of architectural gems in Manhattan–and sometimes saving them– is what makes New York New York.)

From my observation, buildings of around the 1920’s in the Upper West still bears an aroma that is reminiscent of Edith Wharton’s New York ambience. (Oh well, why should I talk about the places of super rich!) But the apartment complex built from 1930’s onward in the Upper East look less cheer. I can still hang some 19th century paintings or use a drop-leaf empire table, but it is impossible that passing those rows of apartment buildings void of individuality would not have any effect on my mind. Maybe I would select Ashcan school works since their fondness of observing ugliness of urban livings and their voyeur topic may inspire me to peek into the concrete jungles around.

It is not accidental that modern art galleries flourish in lower Manhattan neighborhoods such as Chelsea, the sleek and inhuman metal feeling of the furniture and the abstract visual art would match those long and narrow condos which were converted from warehouses. The same degree of negation of the past in those super rough or super smooth modern paintings and the sheer color and surface of the modern furniture are the natural choice for lower Manhattan. The crowds are young and 60’s and 70’s furnishing and art have influenced them from their youth. What would I choose if I had lived there? I would say my own works. Don’t I deserve 15 minutes’ of fame?

About Hui

Wang Hui lived from 1632 - 1717 and followed in the footprints of his great grandfathers, grandfather, father and uncles and learned painting at a very early age. He was later taught by two contemporary masters, Zhang Ke and Wang Shimin, who taught him to work in the tradition of copying famous Chinese paintings. This is most likely the reason why critics claim that his work is conservative and reflects the Yuan and Song traditions. One critic claimed that "his landscape paintings reflect his nostalgic attachment to classical Chinese aesthetics. Along with the other Wangs, Wang Hui helped to perpetuate the tradition of copying the ancient masters rather than creating original work.

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