When I first met Sarah, she was working at an art gallery in Chicago that represented the artist Zhang Dali. I knew nothing about contemporary art, but I figured I should learn something so this girl might like me. Zhang Dali was one of the first contemporary artists whose work resonated with me: The longer I looked at it, the smarter it became. In the photo above, Zhang Dali has cut a silhouette out of an old house slated for demolition by the Chinese government, then knocked out parts of the wall.
Zhang Dali has spoken about how strange it is for natives to travel through Beijing these days: The construction boom in the city has resulted in such widespread destruction/construction that people find they can no longer navigate by landmarks, because the landmarks change constantly. Of course, this change isn’t simply bad: Chinese people are living longer, healthier, more comfortable lives. It also isn’t simply good. All of us ignore the tension and ambiguity inherent to development (and the rest of human life!) most of the time, because it’s so hard to hold competing ideas in one’s head without going insane. But my favorite contemporary art helps us conjure a big, complex world in which good news for some is usually bad news for others.