My image uploader is very slow so I'm going to have to write what I have to write without the benefit of illustrations. Yesterday I spent a few hours in the stone wholesale market of Beijing, which is about three kilometeres of stores factories and warehouses dedicated basically to stone carving but mostly to marble flooring. Marble flooring is huge here. Every hotel, every villa, every office building—and there's lots of each. Marble is everywhere. I really wish I could insert a photo becuse I have a photo of a marble inlay of a world map with a different colour marble for each country.
Marble is global, and like David A said, for a city trying to go world-class, global is Western. Think of the incredible uses that Italian Baroque artists put marble to in order to suggest the magnificence of their patrons. At a time when even their columns were rounded (corkscrew shape was favoured) the swirls and whorls of marble, the swirlier and whorlier the better, suggested the passion and power of great institutions like Church and City. It's made by complex geological formations which are cut and polished so that particular sections produce compelling, dynamic images.
Two views on global=western. 1) An example of cultural imperialism. 2) This notion of global-western is actually a domestic fiction which serves domestic purposes. Both perspectives, which I think are fairly easy recourse for anyone studying exotic or intentionally foreign aesthetics, are a little bit too eager to think in terms of closed national categories, since in 1) country A imposes a new style on country B and in 2) country B in fact has a fantasy of country A without empirical basis. I'm interested in how extremely specific the aesthetic of the Western/cosmopolitan (this slippage will have to stand for a little longer) is here. As far as I can tell there are a few major aesthetic inspirations. First and foremost, Louis XIV French Rococo. Secondly, Bauhausian high modernism. Why are these stylistic vocabularies particularly fruitful at this moment?!
In Chinese marble is called Dali Stones, since Dali is the most famous producer of marbles, in Yunnan province. The most prized marbles are ones that resemble shanshui, ink landscape paintings. These ones are often inset into chair backs or tables, or just hung as paintings with poetry describing the perceived landscape. I love the referentiality of these marbles: they aren't exactly imitative of a landscape in the way that a normal painting is: the mimetic relationship is purely felicitious, or even willful, capricious, a projection. Yet at the same time, the water and the mountains are the materials from which these stones are formed, and it's as if there's an alchemical similitude at work between process and product, between origin and result, between content and form. Now that's hot. As if, as if, as if—if these marbles are all about privileging the pursuit of resemblances based on suspected deep structural similarities, then what better metaphor for my own absurd pursuit of the parallels between early modern Western Orientalism and modern Eastern Occidentalism?