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Getty Museum Displays a Selection of Chinese Photographs Produced Since the 1990s
Liu, Zheng (Chinese, born 1969), The Web Cave, negative 1997; print 2005. Gelatin silver print. Dimensions: Image: 37.1 x 37.1 cm (14 5/8 x 14 5/8 in.) Sheet: 51.8 x 44.1 cm (20 3/8 x 17 3/8 in.) Framed: 28 x 22 cm (11 x 8 11/16 in.) Accession No. 2008.70.2© Liu Zheng. Gift of Dale and Doug Anderson, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.
LOS ANGELEs, CA.- On view at the J. Paul Getty Museum, at the Getty Center, December 7, 2010 —April 24, 2011, Photography from the New China displays a selection of Chinese photographs produced since the 1990s, when People's Republic leader Deng Xiaoping introduced the current period of Opening and Reform. Photography from the New China is shown concurrently with Felice Beato: A Photographer on the Eastern Road, an exhibition featuring nineteenth-century views of China and other parts of East Asia, creating a powerful contrast with the contemporary works.

“This exhibition highlights the Getty Museum’s recently acquired photographs by some of the young artists emerging from the reinvented society that is present-day China,” says Judith Keller, senior curator of photographs and curator of the exhibition. “The photographs on display provide a contemporary view of Chinese art and culture.”

This exhibition looks closely at recent acquisitions of photographs by Hai Bo, Liu Zheng, Song Yongping, Rong Rong, and Wang Qingsong, which feature dominant styles in recent Chinese photography, including performance for the camera, the incorporation of family photographs, and an emphasis on the body. Supplemented by private collection loans of work by Huang Yan, Qiu Zhijie, and Zhang Huan, the exhibition also explores such themes as pre-revolutionary Chinese literati art, vestiges of the Cultural Revolution, and the newly rampant consumerism.

In the past 20 years, China's economy has made huge strides. The rapid transition, an amazingly compressed transformation in the lives of millions, has meant great progress in the way art is taught, made, and talked about in China's flourishing urban centers. This exhibition presents the work of eight Chinese artists using photography to respond to their changing world.*

*Artists’ names below are listed in last name, first name order.

Hai Bo
For his series They, Hai Bo created diptychs dealing with the passage of time. Devoted to the reconstruction of the past, Hai Bo’s photographs are dominated by themes of memory and change. The catalyst for this series was a photograph that Bo found with the inscription “For the Future 1973.5.20.” Hai Bo searched out each subject included in the photographs to restage the originals. The diptychs juxtapose the past with the present, allowing the viewer to consider how the transformations that have occurred in China over the past decades have affected those who lived through them. Differences are captured in the pairings; youth is replaced by age, some of the sitters are absent, having died, and details such as clothing and hairstyles have shifted. Born in 1962 in the province of Jilin in northeastern China, Hai Bo initially studied printmaking, graduating in 1984 from the Fine Art Institute of Jilin.

Huang Yan In Huang Yan’s series Chinese Landscape—Tattoo, the tradition of Chinese landscape painting is subverted by using the body as a canvas. Although covering the body with a tranquil landscape composition, this technique provokes tension by imitating the revered art of ink painting on silk with a full torso tattoo. Each frame in the series is slightly different as the model’s pose shifts, changing the painted composition and the relationship of figure to landscape. Huang Yan brings together the past and the present with this series, creating a dialogue between contemporary art practices and traditional Chinese forms of expression. Huang Yan was born in 1966 in the Northeastern province of Jilin. In 1987 he graduated from Changchun Normal University, where he studied art. After graduating, he promptly moved to Beijing to pursue his artistic career. He currently operates a studio and gallery, Must Be Contemporary Art, in Beijing’s Factory 798.

Liu Zheng
Liu Zheng’s series Three Realms (Heaven, Earth, and Hell) opposes the Chinese state’s repressive sexual mores by displaying nudity in his elaborately staged photographs. Historically, the nude is not depicted in Chinese art to the extent that it is in Western art, and during the Cultural Revolution it was forbidden. Contemporary photographers, performance artists, and others have defied this taboo by including nudity in their practices to challenge authority and what is deemed acceptable. Zheng’s photographs reference turn-of-the-last-century prints through their sepia toning and scratches to the negative around the edge of the image. By overturning imagery from earlier stage and film productions, Zheng creates an alternative way of looking at the past.

As a child, Liu Zheng (born 1969) would copy the work of China’s old master painters, but after high school, at his parents’ urging, he enrolled in the Beijing Institute of Technology. He learned to make photographs while a student in the Engineering and Optics Department and began his career as a photojournalist working for the Beijing newspaper Workers’ Daily. With his contemporary Rong Rong (whose photographs are also featured in the exhibition), he started a private journal titled New Photography, exploring contemporary photographic issues. Liu Zheng lives and works in Beijing.Qiu Zhijie In the series Standard Pose, Qiu Zhijie explores the historical significance of the posturing found in the poster art and operas of the Cultural Revolution. Featuring such slogans as “Learn from the workers” or “Long live the dictatorship of the proletariat,” the posters celebrated Communist ideology through operatic style “frozen poses” and by using familiar props, such as flags, Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book, guns, and lanterns to indoctrinate the masses.

Mao's wife, Jiang Qing, created the program of revolutionary operas that set plays, such as The Legend of the Red Lantern, to music. Here, the figures, dressed in contemporary Western clothing, reenact those poses. Without the party attributes and rhetoric, the heroic poses represent the unfulfilled promises of the past. Qiu Zhijie was born in 1969 in the Fujian province. In 1992 he graduated from the China National Academy of Fine Arts, located in Hangzhou. He studied printmaking, but in 1993 he turned to photography due to the lack of opportunities to exhibit his work. Qiu Zhijie is an active art critic. He currently teaches in China’s first new media arts program at the China National Academy of Fine Arts, and maintains a busy studio in Beijing.

Rong Rong
Rong Rong documented the artists and the experimental performances they created while living in a neighborhood of Beijing that was later known as the Beijing East Village. After moving away from recording other artists’ works, he developed his own performances for the camera, producing a three-part body of work called Wedding Gown. Photographed in an abandoned village 40 miles from Beijing, this allegorical series uses the wedding dress as a metaphor for innocence and femininity. The hand-colored photographs evoke nostalgia for the past, while the figures enact a dreamlike narrative of death, cleansing, and potential rebirth. Rong Rong, the nude figure, moves through the site as if searching for something that cannot be found, only to be engulfed by the vibrant, hand-painted flames.

Rong Rong was born in 1968 in Zhangzhou, in the Fujian province. He studied painting at the Fujian Industrial Art Institute in 1986, after which he worked in a portrait studio taking passport photos and wedding pictures. In 1993, with little more than a 35mm camera and the desire to become a photographer, he moved with his sister, an aspiring painter, to the Beijing East Village. In 2007 Rong Rong and his Japanese wife and fellow artist, Inri, opened Three Shadows Photography Art Centre, a complex that includes an exhibition space, a workshop with darkrooms, and an educational center with a library.

Song Yongping
In his series My Parents, Song Yonping documented the daily lives of his parents while dutifully taking care of them. At the same time, Song Yongping staged full-length portraits of his parents, sometimes including himself in the frame. These images utilize a confrontational approach to portraiture, combining performance with elements of everyday familial life. Song Yongping, while tending to his parents’ needs, was given the opportunity to honor them by sharing his art making with them.

In recording the eventual loss of his parents, he created a lasting testament to their lives. The project concluded in 2001 with the death of both of his parents. Song Yongping was born in 1961 in Taiyuan, in the Shanxi Province. Trained as a painter at the Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts, he graduated in 1983. In the 1990s he emerged as an avant-garde painter and was a member of a group called New Pictures of the Floating World, which created images critical of China’s newly materialistic urban culture.


Wang Qingsong
While inspired by motifs found in classical Chinese art as well as in Western art history, Wang Qingsong creates large-scale photographs that explore the rapid changes occurring in China. His photographs, like the paintings of the influential Political Pop group, comment on such topics as rampant consumerism, migration, globalization, and the influence of the West on Chinese culture. Capturing the contradictions of contemporary Chinese life, Wang Qingsong’s staged compositions offer a critical consideration of the gulf between the traditional and the modern in China.

Born in the Heilongjiang Province in 1966, Wang Qingsong initially studied painting at the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts. Influenced by traditional scroll painting as well as documentary and staged photography, he began making photographs in 1996. Wang Qingsong is internationally recognized for his mural-size pictures. He lives and works in Beijing.

Zhang Huan
Zhang Huan first came to the attention of the art world in the early 1990s with his powerful and controversial performances, such as 12 Square Meters, documented by Rong Rong, and 65 Kilograms. Following the practice of international performance artists of the 1970s and 1980s, Zhang Huan places himself in situations in which his corporality is tested. Through his work the body becomes a metaphor for larger social, political, and personal issues. The photographs document either actual public performances or those staged solely for the camera, such as Metal Case, represented by Rong Rong’s photographs in the exhibition. Born in 1965, Zhang Huan studied painting as a graduate student at Beijing’s Central Fine Arts Academy.

After graduation in 1993, he, with other artists like Rong Rong, founded the Beijing East Village. Emerging from the East Village in the 1990s, Zhang Huan became one of the most recognized Chinese artists. His work has evolved from solo impromptu performances to international commissions involving sizable casts. In 1998 Zhang Huan moved to the United States. After exhibiting internationally for more than 15 years, he returned to China in 2006 and opened Zhang Huan Studio in Shanghai.

J. Paul Getty Museum | Judith Keller | Chinese Photographs |


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