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Song Dong's “Waste Not” Brings a Fresh Perspective to the MoMA

On July 25th at PaceWildenstein’s 25th Street New York Gallery, Chinese contemporary artist Song Dong and Sarah Suzuki – who curated his solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) – held a salon-styled “Chinese Contemporary Art and Culture” conversation. Starting from his Projects 90 installation “Waste Not”, the artist discussed from a societal and political perspective this ever popular subject of Chinese contemporary art, and its relation to Western culture as well as Chinese traditional art. The walls of the gallery also held the highlight of the night, Song Dong’s piece “Penjing” (or, “Eating Bonsai”) – the racks of proscuitto, roasted pork, and chocolate resembling miniature landscapes were also a great topic of interest at the event.


This event is part of Song Dong’s Projects 90 exhibition at the MoMA, featuring his installation artwork “Waste Not”, and curated by famed director Barbara London. MoMA’s Projects series has been a highly influential platform since 1971 – committed to the exploration of international contemporary art, this forum has played a vital part in MoMA’s contemporary art programs. Since its founding, the series has launched the career of numerous notable artists from around the world, such as Bill Viola – who has had a significant effect on the development Chinese video art, Olafur Eliasson, Marizio Cattelan, and Rosemarie Trockel.


Song Dong is the first Chinese artist to exhibit at the Projects series, as well as the first to claim MoMA’s premiere venue, the Atrium, enabling audiences to also view installation from several stories above. The predominately conceptual “Waste Not” is quite unlike the other pieces previously chosen by the MoMA for such an exhibition, thus bringing a large sense of novelty to Western viewers, and allowing professionals and gallery-goers alike a chance to realize the value and uniqueness of Chinese art, and its path in relation to Chinese modern society. A director at the Museum states, “This exhibition is extremely important for the Projects as well as the MoMA; Song Dong has given Chinese contemporary art a new hope.”


This event at PaceWildenstein and this year’s “Waste Not” exhibition holds special meaning for Song Dong. The first showing of “Waste Not” in 2005 was a collaboration between Song Dong and his mother, Zhao Xiangyuan, and all the items on display – from legless dolls, soap, bottles, pots, pans, and such – were the belongings of Ms. Zhao, who had collected and held on to these everyday objects for many years. “Waste Not” also spoke about an old Chinese philosophy that was mandatory for survival at that past era of shortage, but now, seems quite at odds with our current high-consumerist society.


Says Song Dong, “America is a highly materialistic society, people are used to spending money, but after the economic crisis they have suddenly realized that – as their money is fast disappearing – one day, all these items will be gone. When they see such a display of objects, it should stir them, and cause them to rethink their views on consumerism, the relation between humans and material objects, as well as the link between you, me, and one another.”


Barbara London, critic Barbara Pollack, dealer Ethan Cohen amongst others were guests at this event. Ethan Cohen says of Song Dong’s work, “[It’s] the essence of Chinese art – painting and food. You see something beautiful and then you experience the satisfaction of eating – it’s a total aesthetic experience!”