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"Performing Images: Opera in Chinese Visual Culture" opens at the Smart Museum of Art
Chinese, Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), Fan Painting with Peking Opera Scene (Tiger), 19th century, Folding fan mounted as album leaf, ink and colors on gold paper. Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
CHICAGO, IL.- During the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dynasties, opera lay at the heart of Chinese social and ritual life, from the village to the court, and the spectacle of theater was enjoyed not only on the stage—in costumes, props, and face painting—but also across the full spectrum of Chinese visual culture, from scroll paintings to popular prints.

One of the first major exhibitions of its kind in the West, Performing Images focuses on the vibrant imagery, rather than ethnographic artifacts, of Chinese opera. The exhibition showcases how operatic characters and stories were represented in pictorial and decorative motifs in a wide array of media including ceramics, illustrated books, painted fans, prints, photographs, scroll paintings, and textiles. Featuring nearly eighty remarkable objects on loan from major museum collections, the exhibition and its catalogue reveal how Chinese visual and performing traditions were aesthetically, ritually, and commercially intertwined.

Related exhibition
In a gallery adjacent to Performing Images, the Smart Museum presents the concurrent exhibition Inspired by the Opera: Contemporary Chinese Photography and Video (February 13–June 15, 2014).

This concise exhibition reveals the continued relevance of opera, both within contemporary Chinese society and within the experimental work of individual artists. It includes photography and videos by Liu Wei, Chen Qiulin, Liu Zheng, and Cui Xiuwen.

Together, the works help illuminate the relationship between contemporary art and China’s cultural heritage.

Judith T. Zeitlin, William R. Kenan Jr. Professor in East Asian Languages and Civilizations the College and faculty committee member of Theater and Performance Studies at the University of Chicago, and Yuhang Li, Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, in consultation with Richard A. Born, Smart Museum Senior Curator.

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