by Jonathan Lowe

Leaving the gallery after having previewed Ni Ne’s premier exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum, I had the unsettling sensation that I was being followed. While it is true that art critics must occasionally deal with such bouts of paranoia (their words being so vital to the success of failure of an artist’s career) I nonetheless had my apartment searched for bombs and microphones prior to releasing this review. Suspecting something of Ne’s propensity for both ingenuity and revenge, I also called Rent-A-Doberman and shortly had six froth-mouthed canines roving the premises. Only after these precautions were taken could I settle into the chair in my hotel room four miles away and begin to compost my thesis: “The Man Is Mad”.

When we say “the artist is difficult” we sometimes mean that he lacks style in the classical sense (i.e. he doesn’t waste money on picture frames, pedestals or ties to wear to museum parties). On other occasions what we mean–as a compliment–is that he has dis-placed the typical social and commercial connections to the mundane realities of bourgeois westernism with the idiosyncratic and arbitrary willfulness to explore the deeper dimensions of emotional suppression and compromise. (He hates rich socialites but won’t go so far as to refuse to sell them an interesting piece for their den or foyer.) When it is applied to Ne, however, our statement takes a slightly different shading, and what we do actually mean is that the artist is certifiably insane.

Of course we would never actually say this, for fearing to appear out of touch with the contemporary mediums of artistic expression. (i.e. Even if we knew nothing of art, it would be the height of idiocy to admit it except when caught at home watching Nascar with a six-pack of Coors Light.) But the truth remains. I must confess that Ni Ne’s background is some-thing of a mystery. No one knows his age either. What I might be discussing here is a difficult child. All I have to go on is an interview purportedly conducted with his parents in a New York Chinatown restaurant. It appears in the exhibition catalogue opposite a picture of Ni standing behind 600 layers of Saran Wrap.

Portrait of the Artist As A Madman – Interview #611

Interviewer: Can you tell me where Ni went to school?
Wi Ne: We teach him here in shop. He made best Woo-Soo duck in Chinatown.
Interviewer: No–I mean did he learn to paint, and to sculpt?
Wi Ne: You sure he not in trouble with cops?
Interviewer: No, no, no. Where did he learn about art?
Wi Ne: Oh he know zippy about art. He pretty good with knife and wok, though. We still get many calls for his Sweet-or-Sour Pig.
Interviewer: How old is Ni?
Wi Ne: Well…Let’s see…I forget.
Interviewer: How old are you, then?
Wi Ne: Well…Let’s see. His mother there is…
Fi Ne: Don’t you dare!
Interviewer: Did you know that your son is having a one man exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art next month?
Wi Ne: That fine with us…and you tell him so. As long as he don’t strain himself, huh?

When questioned, the museum director could offer me no other reason for the presence of Ni’s work there than that the selection committee had flown to Honolulu for “remedial inspiration” classes, and that in the interim had left the upcoming exhibit schedules in the capable hands of his secretary. Joining the said secretary on her coffee break, I attempted at some length to discuss her relationship with Ne, but all I could get out of her was that Ni was “nice” although she admitted having a thing for Thai Kick Boxing and Street-Fried Chicken smothered in soy sauce.

“I never got a look at him, it was always so dark,” she explained. “But he always said the most original things, like lets go roll around in some original recipe. He was such a good kisser, too. Are you suggesting my letting him have a studio to work in at night was a mistake?”

The answer to this question is obvious, as we shall see.


To enter the Ne gallery, one must first push aside several hanging figures of Nazi war criminals in various stages of decomposition. In this exhibit Ne seems to be saying that “payday is not always on Friday”. Such would explain the inclusion of Hitler as an old man, still clutching a piece of fishing net and a mini-skirt, a gift from his son.

When we say “this artist is difficult” we sometimes mean that he lacks style in the classical sense (ie he doesn’t waste money on picture frames, pedestals or ties to wear to museum parties).

“RHAPSODY IN RED” Here are the video-taped highlights of a dozen fires and volcanic eruptions, including William F. Buckley’s discussion of the national deficit. At first I thought I’d wandered into Sears TV department, because of the salesman standing there. But when he said, “Can I interest you in LIFE or PROPERTY? i reevaluated my assessment, and decided he must’ work for Allstate. As it turned out neither hunch was correct and I knew it when I shook his latex hand. This marks the point at which I first thought Ne was ridiculing my sanity. “IT’S A SMALL WORLD

AFTER ALL” This is an example of “maximal” as opposed to “minimal” art. Demanding participation (not just contemplation), the exhibit requires that one get down on his hands and knees and crawl through a welded steel cylinder. As one gets closer to the end, the cylinder gets smaller and begins to spin. Crawling frantically out the other end, you are confronted by a convex mirror which makes you appear two feet tall. I have no idea what this all means, but suspect it has something to do with Ne’s disdain for critics in general, and the world at large. “TWO PEOPLE ARGUING” This piece illustrates a typical domestic scene: a husband and wife in a squabble over finances. He appears to be throwing a calculator at her while she reads from the novel “The Moneychangers”. With articulate and chilling detachment, Ne has placed a third–and sexless–figurine in one corner with a gun. “STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN” At the top of this escalator is a sign with fine print reading “NOW WHAT?” Beside the sign is a wok and a cookbook.
With articulate and chilling detachment,

Ne has placed a third sexless figurine in one corner with a gun.

“PRETERHUMANS” Here Ne has assembled the photos of many con-temporary rock stars in the hope that aliens visiting from the socially discriminating planet of Wackonia might feel guilty about having stranded them here. “CONSCIENCE, THE FEAR OF BEING TOLD WHAT TO DO, DEPENDENCE, APATHY & TOTAL RESIGNATION” An elaborate title to describe a dummy, in the act of punching out a time clock.

“THE MIND; A SELF PORTRAIT” Here, in what appears to be a subterranean environment, Ne has placed a trapezoidal collection of mirror fragments hanging and turning on piano-wire filaments. Below, shaped in crude replica from the death masks of great composers, philosophers, and statesmen are piles of heads made of iridescent yellow wax. One head–that of Nietzsche–has pale green neon eyes, and is smoking a cigarette. The sign below it reads, rather unpretentiously: FOR THE DEN OR FOYER “REVENGE IX” Skipping nos. (perhaps they were too sanely conventional?) Ni Ne (Nine?) has one figurine (resembling a famous film critic) tied to the ceiling by his toes. Another figurine (discreetly concealed behind 600 layers of Saran Wrap) appears to be trying to start a chain saw. Through a cutaway in the wall, one can see into the next room where a gathering of Chinese sit eating Ken-tucky Fried Chicken while watching “Kung Fu Rodeo”.

Footnote: After further contemplation and interpretation of the inherent symbolic content of this show, I an: recommending it highly, and wish to congratulate the museum for its foresight in bringing a new and original talent into the limelight.

Filed Under: Hard News


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