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‘Rising Dragon’ at the Katonah Museum of Art

Katonah Museum of Art

Liyu + Liubo, 2013, “An Escapee Being Chased Dropped through the Top Floor of a Building and Scared Everybody Inside,” Courtesy of the artists © Liyu + Liubo.

 
By NATALIA BAAGE-LORD

The Katonah Museum of Art is exploring present-day Chinese art and the country’s modernization in their new exhibit “Rising Dragon: Contemporary Chinese Photography.”

Through Sept. 2, the museum will showcase many Westchester-premiering photographs in an exhibit featuring Chinese artists who display their views of their country.

“Every single photographer in the show is dealing with a social, economic, traditional and societal issue in their work,” said Miles Barth, guest curator of the exhibit. “And in America, you don’t see as much of that. They are all dealing with social issues and modernization and what the word ‘modernization’ means and what it brings — the good, the bad and the ugly. What runs through most of the work is just their loss of traditional values.”

The 85 pieces by 36 artists in the exhibit span 12 years, allowing audiences to see the country’s reconstruction occur over a fast-paced and changing decade. As the average age of the exhibit’s photographers is 41, most were born during or after China’s cultural revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, said Mr. Barth. This also means that many of the artists have little knowledge of Chinese history, as Communists purged much of it, he said. As a result, the exhibit highlights an artistic backlash in order to figure out the traditions and how they are continuing to transform.

“In China, they are being bombarded now with Western culture and this whole idea of consumerism,” said Nancy Wallach, the museum’s director of curatorial affairs. “Many of the old traditions and lifestyles are dying out. So there is this whole clash of new and old, and this feeling of an identity crisis. Also, with all of the urbanization that is going on, people are being displaced and old neighborhoods are being destroyed. These are the things that they are dealing with.”

The exhibit attempts to show that the Chinese artists might not fully be acclimated or fully accept the new imposed culture, but that they are trying to come to terms with the significant changes.

“It’s putting Chinese society into this giant washing machine,” Mr. Barth said. “And it’s not ready for the dryer yet. It keeps churning. And the Communists are not about to let go of what has gotten them to this point in history.”

Probably the most recognizable piece from the most famous photographer in the exhibit is “Family Tree” by Zhang Huan. The series of photographs is a performance piece that was staged for the camera. From sunrise to sunset, three calligraphers wrote historical Chinese poems on his face, turning him into a human billboard of his country’s history. By the end of the day, his face was completely covered in ink with scribed words.

“It’s discussing how he is trying to maintain a certain amount of history, which has either been lost or is being ignored,” Mr. Barth said. “There is this major displacement of traditional history that his generation is without. He is making a statement about how the Chinese are losing their culture to modernization. And they are moving away from tradition and into a new tradition of what the government is trying to do as it moves into the 21st century.”

Ms. Wallach said that it is very exciting to examine what is going on in China through its art, as it adds another dimension to recognizing the issues. Some of what viewers see, she said, will cause them to take a second look at the photographs, as the exhibit exposes them to themes that they might not be familiar with.

“I hope that audiences get part of the idea that it is a wild and crazy world in China,” Mr. Barth said. “They will see this in the work. In some ways, it is bouncing off the walls with energy and with craziness. And a lot of people, on the surface, will not necessarily understand what the work is about.”

Audiences might not recognize the underlying meanings in the photographs, and according to Mr. Barth, “Rising Dragon” has pieces that are not easily understood, as the meaning is not always explicit. This results in some viewers leaving the gallery without fully comprehending the work. Audiences might be mystified by how it is done and what it is expressing.

“I think the exhibition will be fun,” he said. “There is something for everyone. People will be attracted to some, and others they won’t understand.”

The Katonah Museum of Art is located at 134 Jay St. in Katonah. For more information about the exhibit, call 232-9555 or visit www.katonahmuseum.org.



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March 30, 2012