Tseng Kwong Chi · Citizen of the World

This exhibition features the photography of the late Tseng Kwong Chi as well as selected photographs from the college’s permanent collection. A gallery walk with Keith Davis, director of Hallmark Fine Arts Programs, will be presented at 3:30 pm on June 13.

Tseng Kwong Chi was born in Hong Kong in 1950 following his family’s escape from China, where his father had served in the Nationalist Army in the war against China’s communist revolutionaries. Following his family’s immigration to Canada as a teenager, Tseng later earned a degree in fine arts in Paris. He relocated to New York in 1978 and continued to work there until his death in 1990. Tseng used his personal knowledge of China’s history and his particular sense of humor to create a series of photographs of himself masquerading in the guise of a visiting Chinese communist official. Tseng had discovered that dressing in a Mao-style suit inspired strangers to treat him as a VIP, and he used this persona to explore Westerners’ naïveté and ignorance of Asia, specifically of China.

From his sharply angled stance in front of famous landmarks to his Boy Scout stand-at-attention pose at the Kennedy Space Center, Tseng Kwong Chi’s chosen photographic subjects are monumental sights from around the world as well as himself. Trudy Wilner Stack, curator of exhibitions and collections at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona, Tucson, states, “His ironic, playful commentary on internationalism and the struggle for individuality in a world of powerful, contradicting cultural influences offers an unparalleled experience in contemporary photographic art.” Ultimately, his work references performance, conceptual art and photography.

Tseng consistently appears anonymous, impassive and mysterious. He sits stiffly or stands at attention, and often grips a visible cable release, which is the remote mechanism needed to trip his camera’s shutter. While raising issues concerning ethnic stereotyping, Tseng also represents a tourist seeking a kind of celebrity status by being photographed with cultural and national icons. He described himself as “an inquisitive traveler, a witness of my time and an ambiguous ambassador.” Throughout the photographic series, Tseng’s alter ego was perfectly realized: impassive and unspecific, he satisfied the basic stereotypes by which Westerners define Asia. His photographs have become key images in many studies of contemporary Asian-American art.

After acquiring a Hasselblad camera in 1987, Tseng increasingly turned to depicting himself in nature, relying on an assistant rather than a cable to release the shutter. Although he continued to seek out the clichéd view, Tseng produced images that are unabashedly beautiful. Adopting contemplative poses from Caspar David Friedrich and seeking out awe-inspiring scenery that evokes Ansel Adams and Albert Bierstadt, Tseng has ultimately put himself in contact with the sublime and offers us brief glimpses of a Romantic figure, an artist who has put aside his disguise to revel in the sheer power of nature.

The gallery guide for Tseng Kwong Chi: Citizen of the World features text by Barry Blinderman, director, University Galleries, Illinois State University, Normal; essay courtesy of the Houston Center for Photography, Houston, Texas.

The following artists have photographs from JCCC’s permanent collection also on view: 

Gregory Crewdson was born in 1962 in Brooklyn and received an MFA from the Yale School of Art in 1988. Since 1993 he has taught at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut.

New York artist Lynn Davis was born in 1944 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She studied at the University of Colorado and the University of Minnesota, and received her BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1970.

Roy DeCarava was born in New York City in 1919 and studied painting and printmaking at Cooper Union, Harlem Art Center, and the George Washington Carver School.

Originally from Sioux City, Iowa, Kansas City artist Deanna Dikeman was born in 1954 and holds degrees in biology (1976) and management (1979) from Purdue University. Dikeman received a Charlotte Street award in 2006 and a United States Artists Booth Fellowship in 2008.

British artist Adam Fuss was born in London in 1961 and has lived and worked in New York since 1982. He trained as a commercial photographer prior to his art career, and he has exhibited his work internationally.

Raised in Mission, Kansas, and educated at the University of Kansas (BFA in Visual Communication, 1983), Art Miller is an artist and designer whose work has been exhibited frequently in the Kansas City area. He was recipient of a Charlotte Street Foundation Fellowship in 2003.

Mike Sinclair was born in 1952 in Kansas City, Missouri. Sinclair studied in the MFA program at the University of Illinois, Champaign, in 1981, after earning a BA from Southern Illinois University in 1974. He was a 1999 Charlotte Street Foundation award recipient.

Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto was born in 1948 in Tokyo, and he studied at the Art Center in California in the 1970s. He lives and works in New York and Tokyo. Sugimoto, Fuss and Crewdson had a group exhibition Nature Studies at the JCCC Gallery of Art in 1995.