Rising Dragon: Contemporary Chinese Photography

  • Image

    Zhang Huan
    Family Tree, 2000 (ed. 13/25)
    C-print on Fuji archival paper
    9 photographs, each 21 × 16 ½ inches
    Courtesy of Friedman Benda, New York
    © Zhang Yuan

  • Image

    Tamen
    Shanghai Bund, from “The Same Room” series, 2007
    Digital chromogenic print
    Courtesy of the artists

  • Image

    Wang Wushen
    Mt. Huangshen (A124), 2004
    Gelatin silver print
    39 ¼ × 31 3/8 inches
    Courtesy of Barry Friedman, Ltd.

  • Image

    Maleonn (Ma Liang)

    Days on the Cotton Candy No. 1, 2006

    Digital chromogenic print

    23 ½ × 35 ¼ inches

    Courtesy of the artist

    Photo: Courtesy of the artist

  • Image

    Huang Yan
    Spring, from the series "The Four Seasons," 2005
    Chromogenic print
    39 × 31 5/16 inches
    Collection of Dale and Doug Anderson
    Photo: Kelly Marin, Inc

The year was 2000—the Year of the Dragon in the Chinese zodiac. Drastic changes in China’s social and political landscape made China the world’s fastest growing economy. This feat was all the more astonishing because barely a decade before, China was largely an agriculturally based economy. By the next Year of the Dragon, in 2012, the country would boast some of the world’s largest cities, with tall buildings, vast shopping malls, and slick airport terminals. As China continues to expand its urban centers and increase its industrial output, many of its citizens struggle to hold on to traditional ways of life in the face of such swift modernization. 

Rising Dragon: Contemporary Chinese Photography explores this impressive period of transition through more than one hundred photographs by 36 artists from mainland China. Most of the these images were made between the Dragon years of 2000 and 2012—an auspicious time in Chinese cosmology and a period during which many of these artists came of age. They revive social-documentary photography and experiment with new, digital photographic processes to explore common concerns: changes in social self-identity, the alteration of the natural environment, and the erosion of cultural heritage in an increasingly globalized society. Undercurrents of China’s rich artistic legacy are present in many of the portraits, landscapes, cityscapes, and scenes of daily modern life. Yet these images also often seem to fast-forward into the future with a very “now” visual style filled with humor, artifice, and pop excess. 

In his series “Sitting on the Wall” (2000–2010), Wang Feng documented a decade of gradual yet radical transformation of a city skyline with an annual photograph. Zhou Hai captured the environmental impact of untrammeled economic growth in the series “The Unbearable Heaviness of Industry” (2005). Wang Wusheng reached back into China’s artistic past to depict the Yellow Mountains in photographs that recall traditional landscape paintings of the of the Song dynasty (960–1279). The duo Liyu + Liubo imagined surreal scenes based on real tabloid headlines, as in Chutian Golden Paper 2006-04-30, Hair Salon Wonder—Hairdressing while Smashing (2006). 

Many of these photographers have well-established careers, yet they have only recently come to the attention of galleries and museums in the United States. Included in the exhibition are works by Adou, Cao Fei, Chen Qiulin, Chen Wei, Huang Yan, Jiang Pengyi, Li Lang, Li Wei, Liu Ren, Liu Zheng, Liyu + Liubo, Lu Guang, Lu Hao, Maleonn (Ma Liang), Muge, O Zhang, Peng Rong, Qiu Zhijie, Rong Rong, Sun Ji, Tamen, Tian Taiquan, Wang Jin, Wang Qingson, Wang Wusheng, Wang Fen, Xu Zhen, Yang Yi, Yao Lu, Yu Haibo, Zhang Huan, Zhang Lijie, Zhang Ziao, and Zhou Hai.

This exhibition was organized by the Katonah Museum of Art, New York.

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