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"Beijing: Contemporary and Imperial: Photographs by Lois Conner" opens at the Cleveland Museum of Art
Changchun Yuan, Yuanming Yuan, 1998, printed 2013. Lois Conner (American, born 1951). Platinum contact print; 14 x 24 in.© and courtesy of the artist.
CLEVELAND, OH.- The Cleveland Museum of Art presents Beijing: Contemporary and Imperial: Photographs by Lois Conner, an exhibition of 33 panoramic photographs that reveal the evolution of modern Beijing and its cultural landscapes. Using a 7-by-17-inch camera, Conner produces platinum and pigment ink prints that evoke Chinese scrolls and traditional landscape painting. The exhibition is on view from Sunday, March 30 to Sunday, June 29, 2014 in the photography gallery.

“Conner has said that the subject of her photography,” said Barbara Tannenbaum, curator of photography, “is landscape as culture. Her stunningly beautiful, elegant, complexly composed photographs of Beijing reveal the turbulence and flux of the past three centuries in China through the monuments, landscape and urban fabric of its capital city.”

A central focus of the exhibition is the Garden of Perfect Brightness, Yuanming Yuan, an 800-hectare garden-palace that was both China’s Versailles and Louvre. Expanded upon from the 1690s to 1860, the buildings, follies and waterways were constantly altered, with each new structure and site drawing upon elements of ancient political practice as well as poetic imagination and fantasy, cultural myth and imaginative play. After more than a century as home to the court and government, the Garden of Perfect Brightness was destroyed by British and French troops as retribution for the murder of British envoys sent to negotiate a truce in the Second Opium War.

The drama and tragedy of that long ago desecration are conveyed in Conner’s 1998 photograph, Ruins of Yuanying Guan, Yuanming Yuan (View of Distant Seas, Garden of Perfect Brightness), in which the damaged rococo columns stand as proud survivors of a dark act. Most of the garden has been left in ruins as a reminder of China’s “century of humiliation” (around 1840-1949) and to serve as a symbol of the goal of national revitalization. Conner balances images of the ruins with the garden’s scenic views and structures, picturesque lakes and intoxicatingly scented lotuses. Yuanming Yuan can be contrasted with the artist’s depictions of the Communist-era monuments, cutting edge 21st century architecture and glimpses of the diverse urban fabric of contemporary Beijing.

This exhibition is accompanied by Beijing: Contemporary and Imperial, a 156-page-catalog by Lois Conner and Geremie R. Barmé. It is published by Princeton Architectural Press and made possible by a grant from The Rosenkranz Foundation.

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