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.