Most Chinese translations of American city names are phonetic. The Chinese word for New York sounds very similar to the American way of saying "New York." San Francisco, however, is unique. In Mandarin, it is called Jiu Jin Shan, or Old Gold Mountain, in reference to the gold rush.
This spring, check out artist Zhan Wang's interpretation of Old Gold Mountain at the Asian Art Museum. The artist packed up every imaginable stainless steel kitchen object made in China -- enough to cover the floor of a medium-sized gallery -- and spent four days recreating a shiny panorama of San Francisco. It's a stunning display. Market Street is two rows of stainless steel chopsticks. The Transamerica Building is three cheese graters topped off with a pair of closed tongs. Tiny spoons and other utensils are carefully lined up around the edge of the stainless city, little docks and ports jutting out from the stacks of precariously piled kitchenware landmarks. Set on a mirrored platform, the installation creates an ethereal light reflection on the wall, like a luminous fog looming in the distance.
When the installation comes down in May, Wang will crate and store the pots and pans until they're eventually used to build another city. On Gold Mountain is part of an international series; he's already done London. For the next installation, I'd like to suggest a pots and pans Indianapolis.
In addition to the remarkable rendition of The City, Wang is showing a collection of rocks in a corner of the gallery. The rocks were collected from the Sierras, shipped to Wang's studio in Beijing and coated with sheets of stainless steel. Wang hammered, polished, and pounded the steel onto the rocks, creating a skin that could be peeled off in chunks and welded back together. The end result is a shiny cousin to the original rock. Fifty pairs of original and fake rocks are displayed, along with another replica of a 6,000-pound boulder glittering near the door to the gallery. This element of the show was inspired by Wang's past replicas of Chinese scholar's rocks
Wang's view of San Francisco can be interpreted in many ways. While his display is glorious, it is unstable and made of cheap, utilitarian objects manufactured by unknown workers in China. According to the exhibit's curator, the medium of kitchenware is also a nod to the fact that many Chinese immigrants turned to the service industry after the gold rush. However you interpret it, Wang's work is a gilded, contemporary glimmer in the eye of the Asian Art Museum.
Interested in seeing another artist's interpretation of the landscape of San Francisco? Check out Liz Hickok's jiggly Jell-o version on Spark.
Zhan Wang's On Gold Mountain is on view at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco through May 25th, 2008.
THIS WEEK: Our very own Kristin Farr is a guest on the Art 21 Blog. Check it out.