Paul Kasmin Gallery is pleased to announce an upcoming exhibition of photographs by Tseng Kwong Chi (1950-1990). A comprehensive survey of Kwong Chi’s pioneering series of self-portraits, this exhibition will feature over 90 large-scale, black-and-white photographs, some of which will be on view for the first time. This is the largest exhibition to date in New York City of Kwong Chi’s “ambiguous ambassador” series.
The son of exiled Chinese nationalists, Tseng Kwong Chi was part of an intimate circle of artists, Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, and Cindy Sherman among them, who took the center stage of the New York art world during the 1980s. As a Hong-Kong born, Paris-trained artist, Kwong Chi viewed himself as a citizen of the world and eschewed labeling himself or his art as “Chinese.” However, his ironic self-portraits posed in a Mao suit in front of American landmarks found their way to Communist China and were profoundly influential for China’s avant-garde, including conceptual artists Song Dong and Zhang Huan, who were exposed to Kwong Chi’s images through western magazines smuggled into the country. Kwong Chi’s photographs not only satirized relations between the United States and its emerging rival, China, but also broadcasted his freedom of movement – a privilege denied most Chinese artists at the time.
As Kwong Chi continued to follow his expeditionary impulses, the series expanded to include photographs of himself with iconic figures, such as Mickey Mouse, as well as at tourist destinations in more distant places in Europe, South America, and Asia. As he began to explore the American and Canadian West in great detail, in the tradition of the Hudson River School of painting and the landscapes of Ansel Adams, his photographs reveal a growing interest in the sublime. Thematically, the series shifted; from playful satire to a more spiritualized, interior vision of North America. Renowned curator Dan Cameron’s elegiac observations of Kwong Chi’s oeuvre capture the artist’s magnificent accomplishments. Cameron writes, “Tseng Kwong Chi neither entered the world nor left the world by himself, but the photographs he made while he was amongst us remain a powerful embodiment of the philosophical paradox within the designation of the self as a lone individual in the midst of an increasingly crowded, public world.”
With growing global interest in Chinese contemporary art and China poised to dominate the world’s attention with the advent of the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing, the photographs of this Chinese artist who never set foot in his family’s native land, seem more incisive and prescient today than ever before.
The work of Tseng Kwong Chi is in numerous public collections, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Walker Museum of Art, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Tseng Kwong Chi’s photographs were shown publicly in China for the first time at the 2004 Shanghai Biennale.