This is a personal experience of a friend who studied abroad. When he was interning at an art center, he often guarded art exhibitions by himself. One time, he was guarding a video installation. The floor of the room was covered in very thick carpet. Visitors were required to take off their shoes before entering. On weekends there were many visitors and there were always lots of shoes piled outside the door. Near closing time, he noticed that only pair was left, a pair of high heels. He continued to wait in the office. Time passed. Almost an hour later, the shoes were still there. He called out impatiently, “Anyone there? Is anyone still in there?” Some time passed, but no one answered. He went in to search for the visitor.
In the room, there wasn’t a trace of another human. He was perplexed. Could someone have left without her shoes, he thought as he was leaving the room, only to discover the shoes were gone? Is this someone playing a prank? From behind came the sound of high heels walking away, takh-takh-takh…he hurried out to follow the sound. No one was outside either. He became nervous and hurried back to his office to collect his things and go home. Vaguely he heard the sound of the high heels returning, slowly moving one step at a time toward the entrance of the art center. When the steps advanced near the room, he forced himself to go out of his office to look—and discovered that the pair of high heels was there as if it had never left. He was so scared he fled home without locking the gate.
Afterwards, he emailed the director to announce he was too busy with school, and quit.
You will notice that in the art world there are some who will go to see all the exhibitions, never missing a single one. They are not media, and they don’t work in the art world—but year in and year out they flock to the galleries and to the museums, present at every opening in the city. The second they arrive, they grab up the catalogue and start chatting up the artist. We call these people art groupies. One time I was chitchatting with one of them. Rather proudly he told me a strange experience he once had.
“A few years ago I received a text, an invitation to a group show on abstraction in the 1960s. I went. The text message had specially mentioned my name. Back then I rarely received an invitation. I had to actively search for exhibitions to go to, so that day I was very pleased. The opening was a little past nine. I hailed a taxi to the address given in the text message. It was in a residential area. The streets were quiet. Babbling noises spilled out from the lit-up window. I went up, I think to the third floor. I felt very lively upon entering the room. There were many people, including a few foreigners, all dressed rather formally. I hung around, looked at the artwork, and didn’t see anyone I knew. It wasn’t the usual crowd. On the front desk was lots of food and even red wine. I grabbed a glass and walked around. It was pretty good wine. I sat down on a sofa in the corner. It was dark red and made of solid wood, pretty classy, but chilly to the touch. Just then a woman dressed in black came over and clinked glasses with me. She was very attractive. After she sat down she asked where I came from. I told her about myself. She seemed rather excited, asking all sorts of questions, saying she was not Shanghainese. We talked a lot about our opinions of art. She asked about the current art scene, saying she didn’t know much, that she hadn’t been to an exhibition in a long time. I told her who was hot at the moment, who was commanding high prices. I was pleased to have a girl chat me up. I drank a few more glasses. The wine was pretty heady. I stared at her. Her face was covered in thick foundation, her lips painted bright red; but her face became paler the more she drank. I asked her if my face was red and may have said a few other things just to flirt with her. Then I wasn’t feeling too well, a little dizzy. I semi-reclined on the sofa and could hardly open my eyes. Not long after, I fell asleep, vaguely hearing that girl laughing.
“Later, I woke up in a chill. The room was very quiet. The light was out. The window was open, the wind whooshing in. I sat up quickly, still lightheaded and wanting to stand up, but discovered the sofa had risen very high. My feet didn’t touch the ground. I couldn’t see the floor either. I jumped off. The opening was over by then. I used my cellphone as a flashlight and discovered all around me was in tatters—ripped wallpaper. I could hear the sound of water dripping. There were no paintings at all, just a few old picture frames. In one was a group photo, all women dressed in black. They all looked like the girl I was chatting with. Looking at it, my hair stood on end. Feeling my way around with my hands on the wall, I finally found the door. I rushed down the stairs and hailed a taxi home. When I woke up later, I felt uneasy. I even went back during the day. But the place showed no trace of ever having held an exhibition. The neighbors had never heard of it. On the web, no information about the show could be found.”
UNDER THE COVERS
Managing an art warehouse is routine, mundane, and unremarkable. However, any slight inattention may cause one to lose the job.
In the suburbs of Beijing was a huge such warehouse filled with large sculptures, oil paintings, wall hangings, and antique furniture collected by the owner from around the world. The manager’s job was to open the doors for the visitors and return everything back to normal when they left, occasionally update the database, and calculate the inventory. After more than a year, the manager lost his initial interest in art, and was bored by the humdrum and repetitive nature of the job. Guarding a warehouse full of artworks by oneself, although quiet and tranquil, was boring and dull. The only intriguing thing was the dictum explicitly stating that no one was to enter the space on the second floor. Even the most important guests were denied entry. He probed the owner discreetly, but was rebuffed as being too nosy. Getting the cold shoulder a few times only intensified his curiosity.
One night, it was close to midnight after the visitors had left. He should have locked the door and gone home. But suddenly he thought of that mysterious room on the second floor. In his hands were a set of ordinary keys, not like the weighty and sinister ones described in novels. He tried a few spare keys. The lock opened easily. The moment when the door opened was indeed a bit shocking.
Three large objects stood towering in the space, spread out like the pyramids. One was about five meters tall, another close to eight meters, and the third lay on the floor horizontally, about ten meters by the looks of it. An enormous white cloth, spread over almost the entire floor, covered them. The sight was reminiscent of a mountain range. In the dim windowless space they seemed especially spectacular. By the light of his cellphone he could see the cloth was made many bed sheets sewn together, and was covered
with a thick layer of dust. In many places it was yellowed with mildew.
He tiptoed closer. Crouching down, he lifted one corner of the white cloth, wanting to peek at what was underneath. Just when he almost saw it, the behemoth in front of him deflated with a swoosh, and collapsed with a loud rumble. A murky stream of air quickly expanded around him. The dirt rose, filling the entire room with soot. He covered his nose and backed out of the room. In the end, the giant white cloth lay flaccid on the floor. Other than that, there was nothing.
This is a story about a telephone. It happened at an auction, and was told to me by a friend who works at an auction house. It was during the autumn auction season of 2002. A Hong Kong auction house obtained the right to sell the works of the late, famous abstract painter Mr. Liu. His third wife was the consigner.
The auction began. Bidders raised their paddles one after another. The telephone operators were busy manning the phones, bidding on behalf of those who weren’t present in the room. One of these men was bidding wildly, aggressively leading the bidding war. Halfway through, he had already bought several works. Close to the end of the auction, the auctioneer requested the phone bidder settle his purchases. The man said he would pay cash. Soon, cash was delivered to the auction house. But what happened next was very strange. From the telephone came a hollow sound, “Burn the paintings for me, burn all the paintings for me…” The face of the manager who had taken the call became pale. He started shaking. Just then a shriek came from down the stairs. Everyone saw the man who delivered the cash stepping into the elevator and, but when the elevator door opened only a paper man lay on the floor. There was much commotion at the scene. The staff at the service desk was freaked out. In the end it was said all the paintings were burned according to the wishes of the bidder, and calls to that phone number could no longer get through. The number did not exist. Investigation into the phone bidder’s registration revealed nothing. When told, no one would believe it. Later even the auction house disappeared, although some say it changed its name and continues to operate until this day.