Archive for 30 Days in Arts

Chinatown, Now and Then

My new Lydia Chin/Bill Smith book, FAMILY BUSINESS, is set in Chinatown and concerns real estate. (Well, this IS New York.) To celebrate we’re showing some (mostly vintage) Chinatown photos here on the blog. The Library of Congress calls this one, from 1909, “Police Detectives Guarding Chinatown.” I may be wrong, but these guys don’t seem entirely on top of things…

Until the 1970’s the NYPD had virtually no Asian cops. The White officers and detectives at the 5th Precinct couldn’t speak Cantonese. As far as the NYPD was concerned Chinese crime wasn’t their problem unless it interfered with White tourists. The Chinese residents, for their part, didn’t trust the NYPD at all. They felt the cops couldn’t protect them from the tongs and gangs, and they were right. So both groups wanted to have as little to do with the other as possible.

Which is the true (and racist) meaning behind, “It’s Chinatown, Jake.”

For more on this photo:


The Pizza’s Purse; or, What Exactly Do You Do at Bookcamp?

I’m out in Wisconsin (except for you people also in Wisconsin, who can read that as ‘I’m here in Wisconsin’) as the Writer in Residence at the Novel-in-Progress Bookcamp. Kind of like bootcamp for books. This is my fifth year in this gig, and I love it. Some photos herewith; but it’s not the beauty of the place that’s mostly responsible for how I feel about coming here. Though the place is beautiful. It’s a retreat center west of West Bend, in the eastern part of the state. You don’t need to know that, I just got a kick out of saying it.

This is farm country, and right now everything’s green and lush. A farm bordering the property on the west has the biggest cattle I’ve ever seen, a breed known as Belted Galloways. I’ve been told, by the way, that cattle like it when they’re sung to; I’m going to try it tomorrow and woe be unto thee who told me that if it turns out not to be true. This property is gently rolling, with a pond, lots of lilacs in bloom, trees, woods, streams, plus a chapel, comfy reading spaces, and a labyrinth to walk if you get the urge. The rooms have beds, chairs, desks, bathrooms with showers, and that’s it. No TV, no room service — in fact, no maid service. Your room’s made up when you get here, and after that it’s up to you. No fancy stuff. A dining hall for your three hots, a couple of classrooms. There’s also a spa where you can get a massage and suchlike but I’ve never seen anyone use it. Maybe when other stuff is going on, but Bookcamp week, everyone comes to work.

And that’s why I love this gig. We have breakfast together, the “campers” and the “retreaters” and the staff. Then the retreaters go off and write, and the campers come to class, where Phil Martin and I teach Beginnings, Middles, Ends, and Whateverthehellelseyouwanttoaskus. Lunch, more writing, critique sessions, talks by outside experts. We have a number of returning students, which is great, and people go from “I want to write a book… I think…” to “I’m a writer working on a book” and that’s what I love most. People taking themselves and their writing seriously. It’s what I love most about Art Workshop International in Assisi, too (for which, plug plug, there’s still time to sign up this year) but if you feel Italy’s a bridge too far and you want to do a workshop in the US, next year here would be my recommendation.

Oh, that pizza. At lunch yesterday we were for some reason discussing pizza at my table — not clear why, because we weren’t eating pizza — and a couple of people started advocating for pineapple on pizza. I was strongly in the opposition camp. Someone said I was looking at it wrong. The pizza, she said, is the crust and cheese and tomato sauce and ham. The pineapple is like an accessory, the one that makes the outfit.

“You mean, like a bracelet?” I asked skeptically.

“No, more like a purse. A really great purse. The pineapple is the pizza’s Prada purse.”

Which would be why I love writers.

Chapel wall


Water lilies just starting to bloom


Giant cattle far away




Day 30-Luo Ping

Luo Ping

Luo Ping

From Insects, Birds and Beasts, leaf 6: Ants, 1774, by Luo Ping (1733–1799).

One of ten album leaves, ink on paper.

The Palace Museum, Beijing.

Day 29-Audience Robe

Woman's Court or Audience Robe

Woman’s Court or Audience Robe


Metropolitan Museum of Art

Qing dynasty (1644-1911)

late 18th–19th century

Silk satin brocaded with silk and metallic thread

Day 28-Yang Yongliang

Yang Yongliang

Yang Yongliang

Yang Yongliang, 1980, China, approaches photography in a very unique way.

He studied traditional Chinese art and calligraphy from an early age. He recreated Chinese Shanshui paintings with the use of a camera in order to express himself and the subjects that concern him.

It is a combination of the layout of these traditional paintings with images of construction sites, cranes, traffic signs and more which he arranges in a way that from far they look just like an original painting, but when coming closer one can see the detailed photographs.

Day 27-Service with Decoration

Service with Decoration of Flowers and Birds

Service with Decoration of Flowers and Birds

: China

: Southern Song (1127–1278)–Yuan (1271–1368) dynasty

: late 13th–early 14th century

: Silver with gilding

: Diam. from 4 3/8 in. (11.1 cm) to 7 1/2 in. (19 cm)

: Metalwork

: Purchase, The Vincent Astor Foundation Gift, 1997

Day 26-Yue Minjun

Yue Minjun

Yue Minjun



Oil on canvas

220.3 x 200 cm

Immediately humorous and sympathetic, Yue Minjun’s paintings offer a light-hearted approach to philosophical enquiry and contemplation of existence. Drawing connotations to the disparate images of the Laughing Buddha and the inane gap toothed grin of Alfred E. Newman, Yue’s self-portraits have been describe by theorist Li Xianting as “a self-ironic response to the spiritual vacuum and folly of modern-day China.”

Often basing his compositions on well known European masterpieces and iconic Chinese art, Yue subverts the grandiose aura of art history through his adaptation of pop aesthetics. Using both the exaggerated expressiveness of cartooning and the stylistic rendering of graphic illustration, Yue depicts his cloned doppelgangers as contorted and grotesque, all scalded pink skin and maniacal toothy cackles.

Day 25-Buddha Vairocana

Buddha Vairocana

Buddha Vairocana (Dari)

: Buddha Vairocana (Dari)

: China

: Tang dynasty (618–907)

: early 8th century

: Gilt arsenical leaded bronze; lost-wax cast

: H. 8 in. (20.3 cm); Diam. (at base) 5 3/4 in. (14.6 cm)

: Sculpture

: Rogers Fund, 1943


Buddha Vairocana base

Buddha Vairocana base

Day 24-Qi Baishi

Qi Baishi

Qi Baishi

Chinese, 1864–1957

Metropolitan Museum of Art


Dated 1947

Hanging scroll; ink and color on paper

Day 23-Rank badge

Rank badge

Rank badge

: Rank badge

: China

: Ming dynasty (1368–1644)

: late 16th–early 17th century

: Silk tapestry (kesi)

: Textiles-Tapestries

: Fletcher Fund, 1936