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Catching Bob Dylan at the Today Art Museum on a Beijing weekend



The name sounded a little flat, even pedantic. Today Art Museum is located in the Pingguo community in the heart of the central business district just off Baiziwan road.

From outside, the entrance to the bandbox of a building seems almost nondescript except for the statues on the corner leading to its entrance.

It is the first museum dedicated to contemporary art in China when it opened its doors in 2002.

We decided one weekend to take in an exhibit of Robert Allen Zimmerman, the birth name of Bob Dylan, the folk singer who defined the genre during the 1960s and who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2016.

The younger Dylan's face adorned the outside of the museum, wearing a rakish hat adorned with feathers. The announcement on the signboard called it a Retrospectrum-the dictionary definition of which is to review or meditate on past events.

After forking over the 104 yuan ($15.2) entrance fee (probably lower for students and others) and punching in the now ubiquitous Health Kit on our smartphones, we climbed the stairs to take in the exhibit.

On one wall, a grainy video of Dylan was singing.

How many roads must a man walk down

Before you call him a man?

How many seas must a white dove sail

Before she sleeps in the sand?

Yes, and how many times must the cannonballs fly

Before they're forever banned?

The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind

The answer is blowin' in the wind.

Those were the opening stanzas of Blowin' in the Wind, a gripping, plaintive song Dylan wrote in 1962 and whose power still reverberates almost 60 years on.

I was particularly drawn to the paintings in the exhibit, which showcased the man as an artist.

One of them featured New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz and a city I had visited back in the late summer of 2005 after Hurricane Katrina overpowered the levees and drowned its neighborhoods.

In his Chronicles Volume I, Dylan wrote: There are a lot of places I like, but I like New Orleans better. There's a thousand different angles at any moment ... No action seems inappropriate here. The city is one very long poem.

The paintings Dylan did seem to capture every mood of New Orleans, seemingly pouring out the musicality of the place along the Mississippi River into canvass.

I did not see a portrait of Bourbon Street, but maybe I just missed it.

Two other paintings struck out for me. One was of a motel on Route 66, the first all-weather highway in the United States which linked Chicago to Los Angeles and holds a special cultural significance for Americans.

The other is of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, so familiar from countless movies of that city.

Most of the people who were taking in the exhibit at Today Art Museum were students just out of university or young professionals enjoying the last few moments before the end of summer.

As we got ready to leave, the last thing I saw in the Dylan exhibit is something I had not seen in more than 30, or possibly 40 years.

A vinyl record was playing one of his songs near the exit. I did not catch the tune, but it was fitting the vintage record player was belting out the song so effortlessly.


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