Painting, Laughter and an Eagerness to Adapt

By Tamalin Baumgarten MFA 2015

The days have begun to meld together as we’ve settled into a routine here in Shanghai. We spend most of our time in the studio painting in preparation for our group show which opens July 1st. With four weeks to paint and a large space to fill, we are challenged to make big paintings. The studio has become our home. Our dorm is a twenty minute taxi ride to the studio, so we sleep most nights in the studio on cots we bought at Walmart, occasionally venturing back to do laundry and shower. The inconvenient distance between dorm and studio has proven to be a blessing. Dana, Ryan, Arc and I have grown close, and because of this, our paintings have benefitted. With concentrated time in the studio together, we listen to podcasts about art history, engage in conversations about artists we are drawn to, and hold late-night group critiques of our current paintings. Most importantly, we’ve had the time to digest and discuss what we learned from our first year at the Academy. We share what we’ve learned, we even argue about it—to learn even more. 

Our guide, Wang Yi, is a joy to get to know. We visited his studio last week. His paintings blew us away, reminding us of Michael Borremans and Adrian Ghenie. He took us to an art fair, the YUZ Museum, and his friend's gallery called Ming Gallery, where his work is currently showing. We've been learning about the art market in China and how the collectors only buy old art that has already proven its value. People buy contemporary art for lower prices, not as investments, but for the purpose of decorating their homes. Also, there isn't much of a market for international art yet. People here buy art that they are familiar with and are less likely to branch out into purchasing more conceptually based artwork. 

The food here is a highlight. Our routine late dinners on the street excite us most. We walk across the campus along the dimly lit, tree-lined road, past the coy pond, through the finely mowed field, over the river bridge to a bustling outdoor array of food vendors. Dozens of venders grill and serve food on sticks. We enjoy trying new things and often order more than enough. We find amusement in each other's eating habits and trying to communicate with the vendors for Arc and Dana to avoid pork, and nothing spicy for Dana, and "is there pork in the sauce?" or "what's the little speck of meat on the broccoli?" Ryan will eat anything! He enjoys spice to the point of severe pain, and if we can't finish something or don't like it, we pawn it off onto him. It's quite hysterical.

Along with our infrequent showers, we have become comfortable with a less sanitary lifestyle. Arc and I discovered our go-to lunch spot where we find the best kung pow chicken. Yesterday, while eating the dish, I found a little cockroach on my chopstick. Arc and I looked at each other, he wrapped the little guy up in a napkin, and we continued eating—enjoying it just the same. That evening, Ryan was sipping on his tea and reached in his mouth to remove a little long-horn beetle. We gathered around inspecting the beetle as Ryan continued enjoying his tea. None of us have gotten sick yet. We find laughter through our journey of learning a new perspective. 
Today, Mr. Xu took us out with Wang Yi and a couple other Shanghai University faculty to a fancy lunch. We ate in a room to ourselves around a lazy suzan. The waiters brought in dish after dish, and when we were certain it must be the last dish, they’d bring in five more—a couple dozen dishes in total to sample. Despite the language barrier, we all filled our bellies and laughed together—understanding enough through body language and a common delight in the abundance of food. 

So far, our experience in Shanghai has been fulfilling—full of painting and laughter and an eagerness to adapt and to learn from each other.


On May 26, four Academy students departed New York for a six-week residency in Shanghai. Tamalin Baumgarten, Dana Kotler, Arcmanoro Niles, and Ryan Schroeder (all members of the MFA class of 2015) will share their experiences here throughout the summer.

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