Posts Tagged ‘Chinese photography

26
Apr
20

Exhibition: ‘Lai Fong (ca. 1839-1890): Photographer of China’ at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Ithaca, NY

Exhibition dates: 7th February – 14th June 2020

The Johnson Museum of Art, Ithaca, NY has temporarily closed until further notice due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

#MuseumFromHome

 

 

Lai Fong (Chinese, c. 1839-1890) '[Actors]' 1870s

 

Lai Fong (Chinese, c. 1839-1890)
[Actors]
1870s
Albumen print
Collection of Stephan Loewentheil, Cornell JD 1975

 

 

Such a rare commodity (and I use the word deliberately) – an Indigenous photographer – in a world educated “in the colonial view of photography’s history that has privileged Western travel photographers.” And yet, Lai Fong buys into the photographic conventions of the day, based on Western ideals of ethnographic portraiture and documentary landscape photography, to sell his impressive product range. In a photograph such as [Group portrait near Fangguangyan Monastery, Fujian] (c. 1869, below) the positioning of the European figures could have come straight out of an Édouard Manet painting, complete with their air of posed insouciance. Even in the photograph of a brothel, a Canton boat which served only wealthy Chinese clients [Flower boat, Guangzhou] (1870s, below), the West encroaches, as can be seen by the funnels and sails of a ship that lurks behind the traditional floating pleasure den.

Only rarely do we glimpse Lai Fong’s individuality as an artist… the low camera position, long vanishing point and panoramic landscape of the two magnificent images [Ming Tombs, Beijing] (1879, below); or the sublime construction of the image in photographs such as [Piled Stone Peaks in Mount Wuyi] (c. 1869, below) with its reference to Chinese brush-and-ink landscape painting known as Shan shui.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to the Johnson Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Installation image of the exhibition 'Lai Fong (ca. 1839-1890): Photographer of China' at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

Installation image of the exhibition 'Lai Fong (ca. 1839-1890): Photographer of China' at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

Installation image of the exhibition 'Lai Fong (ca. 1839-1890): Photographer of China' at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

Installation image of the exhibition 'Lai Fong (ca. 1839-1890): Photographer of China' at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

 

Installation images of the exhibition Lai Fong (ca. 1839-1890): Photographer of China at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University
Credit: David O. Brown, Johnson Museum

 

 

This exhibition introduces viewers to the work of Lai Fong, arguably the most ambitious and successful photographer of nineteenth-century China. He began practicing under the name Afong in Hong Kong in the 1860s, and over the next twenty years built a towering reputation on his illustrious clientele, his impressive product range, and a catalogue of views of China “larger, choicer, and more complete… than any other in the Empire,” according to his advertisements. His photographs of Chinese cities, monuments, people, and land – however shaped by the desires of his cosmopolitan clientele – stand as records of places that have changed often beyond recognition, and of his own artistry, exuberance, and entrepreneurial brilliance. Managed by his son and daughter-in-law after his death, his studio persisted into the 1940s, an instance of remarkable longevity in a famously difficult field.

“Despite the historical fame of Lai’s studio and the reach of his photographs, which exist today in collections worldwide, Lai remains little known outside of specialist circles,” said Kate Addleman-Frankel, the Gary and Ellen Davis Curator of Photography at the Johnson Museum. “His work is understudied and rarely exhibited, the result in part of a colonial view of photography’s history that has privileged Western travel photographers over indigenous practitioners. Lai Fong: Photographer of China is not only the first exhibition dedicated to Lai, but to any Chinese photographer working in the initial decades of photography’s global proliferation.”

The exhibition brings together almost fifty images, many of which have never been previously published or exhibited, suggesting them as emblematic of one of the nineteenth century’s most significant, and significantly overlooked, photographic careers. They are drawn primarily from the singular collection of Stephan Loewentheil, JD ’75, who over three decades has assembled one of the world’s foremost collections of early photographs of China. Other lenders to the exhibition include the Cornell Library’s Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Getty Research Institute.

Of special note is the Ming Tombs album from Cornell Library’s Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections. This album of ninety-five photographs of Beijing has been in the collection of the Cornell Library since 1940. In 2019, the photographs were attributed to Lai by Kate Addleman-Frankel, the Gary and Ellen Davis Curator of Photography at the Johnson, as part of ongoing research on the university’s collections of Asian photographs. The album is a remarkable compendium, the most complete collection of Lai’s images of the Chinese capital yet discovered. At least nineteen of them may have been entirely unknown previously; they do not appear in the only catalogue of Lai’s photographs reconstructed to date, by the historian Terry Bennett.

This exhibition was curated by Kate Addleman-Frankel, the Gary and Ellen Davis Curator of Photography at the Johnson, and Stacey Lambrow, curator of the Loewentheil Photography of China Collection, with the assistance of Yuhua Ding, curatorial assistant for Asian art at the Johnson. It is supported in part by the Helen and Robert J. Appel Exhibition Endowment.

Press release from the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art

 

Lai Fong (Chinese, c. 1839-1890) '[Itinerant barber]' 1870s

 

Lai Fong (Chinese, c. 1839-1890)
[Itinerant barber]
1870s
Albumen print
Collection of Stephan Loewentheil, Cornell JD 1975

 

 

Genre images like these, along with views of monuments, cities, and natural scenery, were central to the Chinese photography market. Lai created them both at home and on expedition, setting up makeshift studios where necessary. The photographs feature people who may or may not have actually inhabited the traditional roles they play for the camera: Lai had a talent for summoning natural postures and expressions from subjects he had costumed and arranged.

Lai’s photographs certainly appealed to Chinese buyers but, like most nineteenth-century photographs of China, they were largely produced for export. They left Hong Kong as souvenirs with the international officials, merchants, missionaries, and tourists who began to enter Chinese cities in great numbers in the 1860s, after successive incursions by the British military forced the Qing dynasty to expand foreigners’ access to the country.

 

Lai Fong (Chinese, c. 1839-1890) '[Flower boat, Guangzhou]' 1870s

 

Lai Fong (Chinese, c. 1839-1890)
[Flower boat, Guangzhou]
1870s
Albumen print
Collection of Stephan Loewentheil, Cornell JD 1975

 

 

For hundreds of years, floating brothels existed on the Pearl River Delta, part of a river scene that grew alongside maritime trade between China and Europe in the eighteenth century. The boats in most harbours were open to men from any nation, but the Canton boats served only Chinese clients, primarily the wealthy elite. Called flower boats, they were places of lavish entertainment. They could be exquisitely constructed and outfitted, and were often romantically depicted in souvenir paintings.

Despite the boats’ glamorous reputation, the industry turned on slavery. The women and girls working aboard were the property of the boats’ owners, purchased as children and trained in appealing to men of high society. When age or disease rendered them no longer lucrative, they were sold or discarded. Such cruelty was increasingly reviled as the century wore on. The last boats disappeared in the 1930s.

 

Lai Fong (Chinese, c. 1839-1890) '[Beijing]' 1879

 

Lai Fong (Chinese, c. 1839-1890)
[Beijing]
1879
Albumen print
Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library

 

Lai Fong (Chinese, c. 1839-1890) '[Ming Tombs, Beijing]' 1879

 

Lai Fong (Chinese, c. 1839-1890)
[Ming Tombs, Beijing]
1879
From an album of albumen prints
Cornell University Library, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections

 

Lai Fong (Chinese, c. 1839-1890) '[Ming Tombs, Beijing]' 1879

 

Lai Fong (Chinese, c. 1839-1890)
[Ming Tombs, Beijing]
1879
From an album of albumen prints
Cornell University Library, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections

 

 

This album of ninety-five photographs of Beijing has been in the collection of the Cornell Library since 1940. In 2019, the photographs were attributed to Lai by Kate Addleman-Frankel, the Gary and Ellen Davis Curator of Photography at the Johnson Museum, as part of ongoing research on the university’s collections of Asian photographs. The album is a remarkable compendium, the most complete collection of Lai’s images of the Chinese capital yet discovered. At least nineteen of them may have been entirely unknown previously; they do not appear in the only catalogue of Lai’s photographs reconstructed to date, by the historian Terry Bennett.

Lai traveled to what was then Peking in 1879, possibly on the invitation of the foreign diplomats whose portraits are included in the album. Alongside these portraits are views of the monuments of the ancient city, including temples, pagodas, the observatory, the Summer Palace, and the Ming Tombs. As here, many of these monuments are pictured from a distance. Lai makes the approach to the subject as central to the picture as the subject itself.

 

Lai Fong (Chinese, c. 1839-1890) 'Part of the Bund, Shanghai' 1870s

 

Lai Fong (Chinese, c. 1839-1890)
Part of the Bund, Shanghai
1870s
From an album of albumen prints
Getty Research Institute, Clark Worswick collection of photographs of China and Southeast Asia

 

Lai Fong (Chinese, c. 1839-1890) 'Part of the Bund, Shanghai' 1870s

 

Lai Fong (Chinese, c. 1839-1890)
Part of the Bund, Shanghai
1870s
From an album of albumen prints
Getty Research Institute, Clark Worswick collection of photographs of China and Southeast Asia

 

 

Contrary to accounts first propagated by its early European and American inhabitants, Shanghai had not been an inconsequential place – a “fishing village on a mudflat,” as one famous city guide put it – before it was opened to foreign settlement and trade by the 1842 Treaty of Nanking. In fact, for centuries it had been an important point along trade routes between China and Southeast Asia, and by the 1830s it had a quarter of a million inhabitants. Nonetheless, its growth after 1842 was explosive. By the start of the new century its physical size had more than doubled, its population quadrupled, and it had become a global commercial capital.

The landmarks of the early decades of this era – the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, the Shanghai Club, many of the important mercantile hongs, or trading houses – were clustered along the Shanghai Bund. This waterfront embankment district reached the International Settlement at one end and the French Concession at the other.

 

Lai Fong (Chinese, c. 1839-1890) '[Group portrait near Fangguangyan Monastery, Fujian]' c. 1869

 

Lai Fong (Chinese, c. 1839-1890)
[Group portrait near Fangguangyan Monastery, Fujian]
c. 1869
Albumen print
Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gilman Collection
Purchase, Robert Rosenkranz Gift, 2005

 

 

Around 1869, Lai was invited by foreign residents of Fuzhou to record a private excursion by boat to the Fangguangyan Monastery, a “hanging temple” known for its spectacular location and design. Lai posed the group for photographs at several spots along the route.

The rather illustrious expedition party included Charles Sinclair, the British Consult of Fuzhou, who sits on the stool at left; Sinclair’s wife, who leans against the rock wall; Baron de Méritens, an Imperial Maritime Customs Service commissioner, who perches on a rock at center; Prosper Giquel, Director of the Fuzhou Arsenal, who stands by Sinclair’s wife; and Francis Temple, an accountant at the Shanghai branch of the Oriental Bank, who is stretched out informally in the foreground. The man adopting a similar pose in the background remains unidentified.

 

Lai Fong (Chinese, c. 1839-1890) '[Piled Stone Peaks in Mount Wuyi]' c. 1869

 

Lai Fong (Chinese, c. 1839-1890)
[Piled Stone Peaks in Mount Wuyi]
c. 1869
Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gilman Collection
Purchase, Robert Rosenkranz Gift, 2005

 

 

Shan shui was a traditional form of Chinese brush-and-ink landscape painting that followed a complex set of compositional and conceptual rules. Lai refers to it in his images of magnificent natural forms, but photography grounded his representations in the observed, external world – a key difference from the idealism of shan shui pictures.

In his picture of Mount Wuyi, Lai monumentalises the Danxia landform that characterises the mountain, located in the southern suburb of Wuyishan, Fujian. Danxia comprise isolated hills and steep layered rocks of red sandstone that have been shaped by eons of weathering and fluvial erosion. Lai was among the first Chinese photographers to photograph Mount Wuyi’s marvellous stone peaks.

 

Lai Fong (Chinese, 1839-1890) 'Bridal Carriage' 1870s

 

Lai Fong (Chinese, 1839-1890)
Bridal Carriage
1870s
Albumen silver print from glass negative
Courtesy of the Loewentheil Collection

 

Lai Fong (Chinese, 1839-1890) 'Chinese Junks, Hong Kong' 1870s

 

Lai Fong (Chinese, 1839-1890)
Chinese Junks, Hong Kong
1870s
Albumen silver print from glass negative
Courtesy of the Loewentheil Collection

 

Lai Fong (Chinese, 1839-1890) 'Dragon Boat Race, Guangzhou' 1870s

 

Lai Fong (Chinese, 1839-1890)
Dragon Boat Race, Guangzhou
1870s
Albumen silver print from glass negative
Courtesy of the Loewentheil Collection

 

Lai Fong (Chinese, 1839-1890) 'Waterfall in the Dinghu Mountains' 1870s

 

Lai Fong (Chinese, 1839-1890)
Waterfall in the Dinghu Mountains
1870s
Albumen silver print from glass negative
Courtesy of the Loewentheil Collection

 

Lai Fong (Chinese, 1839-1890) 'Portrait of an Official' 1870s

 

Lai Fong (Chinese, 1839-1890)
Portrait of an Official
1870s
Albumen silver print from glass negative
Courtesy of the Loewentheil Collection

 

Attributed to Lai Fong (Chinese, 1839-1890) 'Culling Tea' c. 1869

 

Attributed to Lai Fong (Chinese, 1839-1890)
Culling Tea
c. 1869
Albumen silver print from glass negative
6 15/16 × 9 3/8 in. (17.6 × 23.8 cm)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Robert Rosenkranz Gift, 2005
CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain

 

Lai Fong (Chinese, 1839-1890) 'Portrait of a Merchant' c. 1870

 

Lai Fong (Chinese, 1839-1890)
Portrait of a Merchant
c. 1870
Albumen print
29 cm x 22 cm
Loewentheil Photography of China Collection

 

 

Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art
114 Central Avenue, Ithaca, NY 14853

Opening hours:
Monday: Closed
Tuesday – Wednesday: 10 am – 5 pm
Thursday: 10 am – 7.30 pm
Friday – Sunday: 10 am – 5 pm

Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art website

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16
Aug
15

Exhibition: ‘Early Photography in Imperial China’ at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Exhibition dates: 5th June – 23rd August 2015

 

For me, the standout photographs in this posting are Mee Cheung’s rhythmic Buddhist Monks in Chefoo and the work of Baron Raimund von Stillfried und Ratenitz, especially the three photographs Portrait of two Chinese Buddhist monks with rosary, bell and slit drum, Portrait of a Chinese woman and Portrait of Chinese Admiral Ting.

The latter three have a deceptively simple structure, delicate hand colouring, and a visual and metaphysical presence that is almost beyond description… as though you know the character and personality of these anonymous human beings through the rendition of their image. In a way they are humanist portraits presaging the tradition of the more scientific and archetypal portraits of August Sander.

You can see in the face of Admiral Ting that he is a prosperous and powerful man, you can see the individuality of each person in these images, the individualisation of these people, a tradition which is continued by today’s documentary photographers. But not generally by today’s art photographers looking at the portrait because, for them, the portrait is surface and detail – controlled by the photographer and not responsive to the subject.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Rijksmuseum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

A. Chan. 'Sheung-mun-tai Street in Canton' c. 1870

 

A. Chan
Sheung-mun-tai Street in Canton
c. 1870
Collectie Ferry Bertholet, Amsterdam

 

A. Chan. 'Sheung-mun-tai Street in Canton' (detail) c. 1870

 

A. Chan
Sheung-mun-tai Street in Canton (detail)
c. 1870
Collectie Ferry Bertholet, Amsterdam

 

Mee Cheung. 'Buddhist Monks in Chefoo' c. 1880-1890

 

Mee Cheung
Buddhist Monks in Chefoo
c. 1880-1890
Collection Ferry Bertholet, Amsterdam

 

Mee Cheung. 'Buddhist Monks in Chefoo' (detail) c. 1880-1890

 

 

Mee Cheung
Buddhist Monks in Chefoo (detail)
c. 1880-1890
Collection Ferry Bertholet, Amsterdam

 

Afong. 'Studio Portrait of Courtesans in Shanghai' c. 1875-1880

 

Afong
Studio Portrait of Courtesans in Shanghai
c. 1875-1880
Collections Ferry Bertholet, Amsterdam

 

Afong. 'Studio Portrait of Courtesans in Shanghai' (detail) c. 1875-1880

 

Afong
Studio Portrait of Courtesans in Shanghai (detail)
c. 1875-1880
Collections Ferry Bertholet, Amsterdam

 

Afong. 'A Chinese Party Game' c. 1895

 

Afong
A Chinese Party Game
c. 1895
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

 

 

“Rare photos, photo albums and stereo photos from the collection of China expert Ferry Bertholet, enhanced with photographs from the Rijksmuseum’s collection, show 19th century unknown China at the time of the last emperors for the very first time. From 5 June to 23 August 2015 the Rijksmuseum is presenting Early Photography in Imperial China in it’s Photo Gallery.

In the 19th century Imperial China was almost entirely hidden away from the world until the last Emperor was deposed in 1912. Access was limited to port cities such as Shanghai, Hong Kong and Canton, which were forced to be open to the West after 1842 so that Westerners could trade unimpeded. The advent of photography coincided with a rapidly growing interest in the unknown China. The photographs in the exhibition take the visitor into this exciting unknown world of ports, quays and rickshaws, but also of narrow crowded streets bustling with the multitude of shops and ‘tea houses’ and their hostesses.

The display includes important photographs by such as Felice Beato (his famous photograph of the Second Opium War 1857-1860) and the famous China photographer John Thomson. They were among the first Europeans able to record images of a country that – even at that time – was still barely accessible to the rest of the world. Furthermore, this is also the first time that the work of Chinese photographers such as Afong, Lan Wah and Sze Yuen Ming has ever been shown in the Netherlands. 
Other highlights of the exhibition include a rare Chinese family portrait from 1860 from the Bertholet collection of American photographer Milton Miller, as well as the coloured photos of ‘types of people’ by Baron Raimund Ratenitz von Stillfried.

Besides the 35 photos in the exhibition, a huge travel camera from that time is also on display, illustrating how awkward it was to photograph such material. There are also stereo photos in 3D, including a special shot of the city of Peking in 1860, and photo albums and amateur photos of travellers to China are also on display. A richly illustrated book was published recently: Ferry Bertholet & Lambert van der Aalsvoort, Among the Celestials. China in Early Photographs, Brussels 2014.”

Press release from the Rijksmuseum website

 

Anonymous. 'Peking' c. 1860 - c. 1930

 

Anonymous
Peking
c. 1860 – c. 1930

 

Attributed to Baron Raimund von Stillfried und Ratenitz. 'Chinese carriers' c. 1861 - c. 1880

 

Attributed to Baron Raimund von Stillfried und Ratenitz
Chinese carriers
c. 1861 – c. 1880

 

Attributed to Baron Raimund von Stillfried und Ratenitz. 'Portrait of two Chinese Buddhist monks with rosary, bell and slit drum' 1875

 

Attributed to Baron Raimund von Stillfried und Ratenitz
Portrait of two Chinese Buddhist monks with rosary, bell and slit drum
1875

 

Attributed to Baron Raimund von Stillfried und Ratenitz. 'Portrait of two Chinese Buddhist monks with rosary, bell and slit drum' 1875

 

Attributed to Baron Raimund von Stillfried und Ratenitz
Portrait of two Chinese Buddhist monks with rosary, bell and slit drum
1875

 

Attributed to Baron Raimund von Stillfried und Ratenitz. 'Portrait of two Chinese Buddhist monks with rosary, bell and slit drum' (detail) 1875

 

Attributed to Baron Raimund von Stillfried und Ratenitz
Portrait of two Chinese Buddhist monks with rosary, bell and slit drum (detail)
1875

 

attributed to Baron Raimund von Stillfried und Ratenitz. 'Portrait of a Chinese woman' 1860 - 1870

 

Attributed to Baron Raimund von Stillfried und Ratenitz
Portrait of a Chinese woman
1860 – 1870

 

Attributed to Baron Raimund von Stillfried und Ratenitz. 'Portrait of Chinese Admiral Ting' c. 1861 - c. 1880

 

Attributed to Baron Raimund von Stillfried und Ratenitz
Portrait of Chinese Admiral Ting
c. 1861 – c. 1880

 

Attributed to Baron Raimund von Stillfried und Ratenitz. 'Portrait of Chinese Admiral Ting' (detail) c. 1861 - c. 1880

 

Attributed to Baron Raimund von Stillfried und Ratenitz
Portrait of Chinese Admiral Ting (detail)
c. 1861 – c. 1880

 

Attributed to Jan Adriani. 'A street with several people in Kinkiang, China' 1907

 

Attributed to Jan Adriani
A street with several people in Kinkiang, China
1907

 

 

Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Jan Luijkenstraat 1, Amsterdam

Opening hours:
Every day from 9:00 to 18:00

Rijksmuseum website

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20
May
13

Exhibition: ‘Yang Fudong: “Estranged Paradise. Works 1993 – 2013″‘ at Kunsthalle Zürich

Exhibition dates: 6th April – 26th May 2013

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Many thankx to the Kunsthalle Zürich for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

*PLEASE NOTE THIS POSTING CONTAINS ART PHOTOGRAPHS OF FEMALE NUDITY – IF YOU DO NOT LIKE PLEASE DO NOT LOOK, FAIR WARNING HAS BEEN GIVEN*

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Installation views of Yang Fudong: "Estranged Paradise. Works 1993 - 2013", Kunsthalle Zürich, 2013

Installation views of Yang Fudong: "Estranged Paradise. Works 1993 - 2013", Kunsthalle Zürich, 2013

Installation views of Yang Fudong: "Estranged Paradise. Works 1993 - 2013", Kunsthalle Zürich, 2013

Installation views of Yang Fudong: "Estranged Paradise. Works 1993 - 2013", Kunsthalle Zürich, 2013

Installation views of Yang Fudong: "Estranged Paradise. Works 1993 - 2013", Kunsthalle Zürich, 2013

Installation views of Yang Fudong: "Estranged Paradise. Works 1993 - 2013", Kunsthalle Zürich, 2013

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Installation views of Yang Fudong: “Estranged Paradise. Works 1993 – 2013”, Kunsthalle Zürich, 2013
© Stefan Altenburger Photography Zurich

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Yang Fudong. 'East of Que Village' 2007

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Yang Fudong
East of Que Village
2007
Six channel video installation, b&w, with sound
20 minutes 50 seconds
Installation view Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, 2009
Courtesy of the artist; Marian Goodman Gallery, New York / Paris; ShanghART gallery, Shanghai

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“Yang Fudong (born 1971 in Beijing, lives and works in Shanghai) is one of the most important figures of China’s contemporary art scene and independent cinema movement. His films and photographic work, often rooted in traditional Chinese painting, examine tensions between urban and rural, history and the present, worldliness and intellectualism. Their a-temporal and dreamlike quality, long and suspended sequences, dividing narratives, as well as multiple relationships and story lines reflect the conundrums of idealism and ideology of a new generation. At the same time, the works address the ideals and anxieties of young people who are struggling to find their place in the fast-paced changes of present-day China. Estranged Paradise. Works 1993 – 2013, curated by Beatrix Ruf and Philippe Pirotte, is Yang Fudong’s first major institutional survey exhibition in Europe, presenting film, installation as well as photography from the late 1990s until today, highlighting the formal aspects of the construction of cinema in the artist’s oeuvre and its resonance in Film Noir aesthetics. Following the exhibition in Zurich, the show will travel to the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (21 August – 1 December 2013).

Yang came to the attention of the Western art world in 2002, when he premiered his film An Estranged Paradise (1997-2002) at Documenta XI. Beginning with a meditation on the composition of space in Chinese painting, the film traces the spiritual instability of Zhuzi, a young intellectual in the legendary city of Hangzhou. The film reflects the artist’s fascination with international cinema, referencing such works as Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise (1984) and Jean-Luc Godard’s À bout de souffle (1960), as well as Shanghai films from the 1920s and 1930s, a place and time in which China was strongly influenced by the West. Using camera, lighting and cinematic space to outline the landscape of Chinese modernity, Yang reveals his love of black and white cinematography. Likewise, the contradictions and discontents raised by a progressive modernity as characteristic themes of Film Noir play a significant role in the artist’s work: an invocation of the past and anxiety about the future, and tensions between indifference and engagement, remembrance and forgetting. Films that embody Film Noir concepts include the single channel videos Backyard – Hey, Sun is Rising! (2001), in which four men engage in a series of simultaneous but isolated rituals: smoking, massage, military exercises in a park; City Light (2000), which functions as a noir detective story with elements of slapstick; Honey (2003) then again, a stylistic reference to spy films and all their clichés, invokes ambiguity of seduction and deceit as the earmark of espionage, but also a sense of heightened anxiety and alienation, reflecting paranoia, possibly a metaphor for an ambivalent situation in contemporary China. More recently, since Yang doesn’t direct his actors anymore, they seem to inhabit plot-less noirs, reflecting the genre more in stylistic ways, as low-key lighting, exaggerated contrasts, a dramatically shadowed lighting, an eroticist style and a psychologically expressive approach to visual composition, or mise-en-sène.

The protagonists of Yang’s works are mostly his contemporaries, young people between the ages of twenty and forty, who have spent most of their lives in a society in transformation. The ideals and anxieties of a new generation, the dignity of the individual in a rapidly developing society still in the process of adjusting to the material conditions of the constantly changing times, are recurring themes. This is most obvious in photographic series like Don’t worry, it will be better (2000) or Mrs. Huang at M last night (2006), both depict a fancy lady and her courtiers, in a hotel room or at a night out, seemingly enjoying the trophies of their material success. The sly glances of the protagonists, leave the audience in a state of uncertainty regarding the actual events and the storyline.

In other works some scenes and settings visually recall the literati paintings of ancient China, made by artists and intellectuals pursuing spiritual freedom living in seclusion. The Evergreen Nature of Romantic Stories (2000), a series of photographs in which young men and women stare at miniature landscapes (constructed landscapes mimicking natural scenery of rocks, hills and rivers), relocates the importance of reflection in traditional Chinese gardens as a metaphor for personal orientation and identity, in the domesticity of modern apartments. In the early video-installation Tonight Moon (2000), men in swimsuits and men in costumes mingle in an Eastern botanical garden. Multiple story lines develop and diverge on small monitors and a large screen, conveying a sense of ambiguity. International Hotel (2010), the recent series of black and white photographs of attractive women in bathing suits dipping into a pool at an Art Deco Hotel, invokes the sentimental and touches upon questions about feminine interiority, imbued with melancholy connotations taking the form of moderation and accommodation.

With the film installation East of Que Village (2007), Yang diverges from the urbanity of his other work, delivering a highly personal film that focuses on the sense of isolation and loss increasingly present in China’s contemporary society as communities are scattered, traditional rural villages dissolved, and the fight for survival takes precedence. The imagery is of a desolate and hostile landscape, the host to a group of wild dogs fighting a merciless life-and-death struggle for survival, with only a sporadic presence of human life and social values.

More and more in recent works, Yang shifts his attention toward a reflection on film production. The Fifth Night (Rehearsal) (2010) is an alternative edition of his seven-screen video installation The Fifth Night (with each screen running ten minutes and thirty-seven seconds, the exact length of a reel of film), including four full takes as well as an earlier rehearsal. The artist used different lenses for each camera, but films everything at the same moment. Yang calls this type of installation a “spatial film” or “multiple views” film, and he compares the technique to a contemporary form of the Chinese hand scroll. We see the itinerant youths who often occupy his films, with their pensive, inhibited expressions. Each screen features one solitary “absolute” protagonist; together they compose a series of distinct and mutually unbeknownst worlds. One screen’s lead character, in turn, becomes another’s extra. The sets and props are Yang’s most elaborate to date, with stages, spiral staircases, and alleyways merging into one. The enclosed courtyard in which the piece was shot comes to resemble a maze, pushing the concept of the narrative spatial possibilities of cinema. This bold experiment, which takes an open, outdoor space as an interior, breaks down a boundary that runs throughout Yang’s other films, which have been shot entirely inside or entirely outside. The “rehearsal” version captures the video output from seven monitors that were connected to seven film cameras and ends in “failure”, as one witnesses that one of the cameras breaks, leaving only six channels, assuming the notion that film is both a medium and a site. Additionally, there are three screens of photo documentation and a documentary. Yang coined it a “preview film” because of its raw-image quality, which included viewfinder frames, contradicting the very slick and refined results of the known version. In this instance, Yang transcended his traditional working process of shooting-editing-screening, and pushed further his theory that “anything which has been filmed can be shown. I found that what attracts me the most, and becomes my material, is the process of filmmaking itself.”

Press release from the Kunsthalle Zürich website

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Yang Fudong. 'Shenjia alley. Fairy (1)' 2000

.

Yang Fudong
Shenjia alley. Fairy (1)
2000
C-print
96 x 150 cm
Courtesy of the artist; Marian Goodman Gallery, New York / Paris; ShanghART gallery, Shanghai

.

Yang Fudong. 'East of Que Village' 2007

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Yang Fudong
East of Que Village
2007
Six channel video installation, b&w, with sound
20 minutes 50 seconds
Courtesy of the artist, Marian Goodman Gallery, New York / Paris, ShanghART gallery, Shanghai

.

Yang Fudong. 'Mrs. Huang at M last Night (8)' 2006

.

Yang Fudong
Mrs. Huang at M last Night (8)
2006
C-print, b&w
120 x 180 cm
Courtesy of the artist; Marian Goodman Gallery, New York / Paris; ShanghART gallery, Shanghai

.

Yang Fudong. 'An Estranged Paradise (mo sheng tian tang)' 1997-2002

.

Yang Fudong
An Estranged Paradise (mo sheng tian tang)
1997-2002
Five-channel video (35 mm b&w film transferred to DVD), music by Jin Wang
76 minutes
Courtesy of the artist, Marian Goodman Gallery, New York / Paris, ShanghART gallery, Shanghai

.

Yang Fudong. 'I love my motherland (wo ai wo de zhu guo)' 1999

.

Yang Fudong
I love my motherland (wo ai wo de zhu guo)
1999
5-channel b&w video-installation
12 minutes
Courtesy of the artist; Marian Goodman Gallery, New York / Paris; ShanghART gallery, Shanghai

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Yang Fudong. 'City Light (Cheng shi Zhi guang)' 2000

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Yang Fudong
City Light (Cheng shi Zhi guang)
2000
Single-channel video, color, with sound
6 minutes
Courtesy of the artist, Marian Goodman Gallery, New York / Paris, ShanghART gallery, Shanghai

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Yang Fudong. 'International Hotel (1)' 2010

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Yang Fudong
International Hotel (1)
2010
Inkjet print, b&w
180 x 120 cm
Courtesy of the artist; Marian Goodman Gallery, New York / Paris; ShanghART gallery, Shanghai

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Yang Fudong. 'The First Intellectual' 2000

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Yang Fudong
The First Intellectual
2000
C-print
193 x 127 cm
Courtesy of the artist, Marian Goodman Gallery, New York / Paris, ShanghART gallery, Shanghai

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Kunsthalle Zürich
Limmatstrasse 270
CH-8005 Zürich
T: +41 (0) 44 272 15 15

Opening hours:
Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday: 11am – 6pm
Thursday: 11am – 8pm, free admission from 5 – 8pm
Saturday, Sunday, as well as public holidays: 10am – 5pm
Monday closed

Kunsthalle Zürich website

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08
Jul
11

Exhibition: ‘Ai Weiwei – Interlacing’ at Fotomuseum Winterthur, Zurich

Exhibition dates: 28th May – 21st August 2011

 

Many thankx to Fotomuseum Winterthur for allowing me to publish the text and the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for another version of the image.

 

 

Ai Weiwei. '
Dropping a Han-Dynasty Urn' 1995

 

Ai Weiwei (Chinese, b. 1957)
Dropping a Han-Dynasty Urn
1995
Triptych
C-prints
150 x 166 cm each
© Ai Weiwei

 

Ai Weiwei. '
Profile of Duchamp, Sunflower Seeds' 1983

 

Ai Weiwei (Chinese, b. 1957)
Profile of Duchamp, Sunflower Seeds
1983
From New York Photographs, 1983-1993
C-print
20 x 28.5 cm
© Ai Weiwei

 

Ai Weiwei
. 'June 1994' 1994

 

Ai Weiwei (Chinese, b. 1957)
June 1994
1994
C-print
117.5 x 152 cm
© Ai Weiwei

 

 

Ai Weiwei – Interlacing is the first major exhibition of photographs and videos by Ai Weiwei. It foregrounds Ai Weiwei the communicator – the documenting, analysing, interweaving artist who communicates via many channels. Ai Weiwei already used photography in his New York years, but especially since his return to Beijing, he has incessantly documented the everyday urban and social realities in China, discussing it over blogs and Twitter. Photographs of radical urban transformation, of the search for earthquake victims, and the destruction of his Shanghai studio are presented together with his art photography projects, the Documenta project Fairytale, the countless blog and cell phone photographs. A comprehensive book accompanies this exhibition.

Ai Weiwei is a generalist, a conceptual, socially critical artist dedicated to creating friction with, and forming reality. As an architect, conceptual artist, sculptor, photographer, blogger, Twitterer, interview artist, and cultural critic, he is a sensitive observer of current topics and social problems: a great communicator and networker who brings life into art and art into life.

Ai Weiwei was born in 1957, the son of the poet Ai Qing. Following his studies at the Beijing Film Academy, he cofounded in 1978 the artists’ collective The Stars, which rejected Social Realism and advocated artistic individualism and experimentation in art. In 1981 Ai Weiwei went to the USA and 1983 to New York, where he studied at Parsons School for Design in the class of the painter Sean Scully. In New York he discovered artists like Allen Ginsberg, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, and, above all, Marcel Duchamp. Duchamp is important for him because he understood art as part of life. At this time, Ai Weiwei produced his first ready-mades and thousands of photographs documenting his life and friends in the Chinese art community in New York. After his father fell ill, he returned to Beijing in 1993. In 1997 he cofounded the China Art Archives & Warehouse (CAAW) and began from then on to deal with architecture as well. Ai Weiwei opened his own studio in 1999 in Caochangdi and set up the architecture studio FAKE Design in 2003. In the same year, he played a major role, together with the Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, in the construction of the Olympic stadium, the so-called Bird’s Nest. Following its completion, it became a new symbol of Beijing. In 2007, 1001 Chinese visitors traveled, at his instigation, to Documenta 12 in Kassel (Fairytale). In 2010 the world marvelled at his large, yet formally minimal carpet of millions of hand-painted porcelain sunflower seeds at the Tate Modern.

Ai Weiwei deliberately confronts social conditions in China and in the world: Through photographically documenting the architectonic clear-cutting of Beijing in the name of progress, with provocative measurements of the world, his personal positionings in the Study of Perspective, with radical cuts in the past (made to found pieces of furniture) in order to create possibilities for the present and the future, and with his tens of thousands of blog entries, blog photographs, and cell phone photographs (along with many other artistic declarations). This first, large exhibition and book project of his photography and videos focuses on Ai Weiwei’s diversity, complexity, and connectedness, his “interlacing” and “networking” with hundreds of photographs, blogs, and explanatory essays.

The artist as network, as company, as activist, as political voice, as social container, as agent provocateur: at every moment – in the past, present, and future – every society on Earth needs outstanding unique figures like Ai Weiwei in order to stay awake, to be shaken awake, to be made to recognise their own obstinacy, and to be able to avoid tunnel vision. We are therefore deeply saddened that the completion of this book coincides with Ai Weiwei’s arrest which we deplore. We are extremely concerned about the artist. And we wish that this great thinker, designer, and fighter will remain a resistant public voice for all of us – and especially for China.

The exhibition and book were developed in close collaboration with Ai Weiwei. For reasons already mentioned, however, he was unable to be involved in completing the book. We continue to hope that he will be personally present for the installation of the exhibition.

Press release from the Fotomuseum Winterthur [Online] Cited 06/07/2011 no longer available online

 

Ai Weiwei.
 'Provisional Landscapes' 2002-2008

 

Ai Weiwei (Chinese, b. 1957)
Provisional Landscapes
2002-2008
Diptych
Inkjet prints
66 x 84 cm each
© Ai Weiwei

 

Ai Weiwei
. '10/29/04, Hebei Carpet Factory, China'
 c. 2005-2009


 

Ai Weiwei (Chinese, b. 1957)
10/29/04, Hebei Carpet Factory, China
c. 2005-2009
From Blog Photographs
© Ai Weiwei

 

Ai Weiwei
. '6/1/08, Wenchuan, China'
 c. 2005-2009

 

Ai Weiwei (Chinese, b. 1957)
6/1/08, Wenchuan, China
c. 2005-2009
From Blog Photographs
© Ai Weiwei

 

Ai Weiwei
. 'Study of Perspective - Tiananmen' 1995-2010


 

Ai Weiwei (Chinese, b. 1957)
Study of Perspective – Tiananmen
1995-2010
C-print
32.5 x 43.5 cm
© Ai Weiwei

 

Ai Weiwei from 'Bird's Nest' 2005-2008

 

Ai Weiwei (Chinese, b. 1957)
From Bird’s Nest
2005-2008
C-print
46.5 x 60 cm
© Ai Weiwei

 

Ai Weiwei (Chinese, b. 1957) 'Fairytale 1' 2007

 

Ai Weiwei (Chinese, b. 1957)
Fairytale 1
2007
From Fairytale
Inkjet-print
92.5 x 92.5 cm
© Ai Weiwei

 

Ai Weiwei.
 'Ai Weiwei. Williamsburg, Brooklyn' 1983


 

Ai Weiwei (Chinese, b. 1957)
Ai Weiwei. Williamsburg, Brooklyn
1983
From New York Photographs 1983-1993
C-print
29.2 x 20 cm
© Ai Weiwei

 

 

Fotomuseum Winterthur
Grüzenstrasse 44 + 45
CH-8400
Winterthur (Zürich)

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 11 am – 6 pm
Wednesday 11 am – 8 pm
Monday closed

Fotomuseum Winterthur website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Dogs, chickens, cattle’ 1994-95

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