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August 07, 2004

Wang Qingsong: Postmodern Staged Photography Takes on the Modernization of China

A skim through most of the specialized contemporary art and photography magazines makes it clear that Wang Qingsong, a Chinese painter and photographer, is gaining increasing buzz. Though he's not in danger of becoming a household name any time soon, it's easy to see why he appeals to the contemporary art crowd and conceptual photography enthusiasts -- he favors large, elaborate tableaux, has a very strong, almost unreal sense of color, and (at his best) makes witty references to the impact of globalization and modernization in China, as well as (more recently) making references to classic painters and artworks in some of his work.

His recent large panoramas, which are gaining him increasing attention, tend to suffer heavily when viewed online, as one might expect from such oversized photographic works stuffed with detail, historic references, and in-jokes. Nevertheless, his substantial web site is worth a visit, and there are both HTML and Flash versions (though the images loaded very slowly in my visits there). A number of the earlier non-panoramic images look pretty good, and he has most of his major work dating back to the mid 1990s on the site, as well as links to reviews and articles.


"Finding Fun" Wang Quingsong image

Though Qingsong's website is comprehensive, there are other online galleries that are worth visiting that do more justice to some of the key panoramas and don't compress the images as much. In particular, the New Chinese Art website has larger images, and one can enjoy his "Gaudy Life" panorama in clearer detail than on Qingsong's own website (though interestingly, the same image goes by a different name, "The Night Revels of Lao Li").

A fair amount of Qingsong's earlier work (especially pre-2000) strikes me as more didactic and somewhat less interesting than the more recent panoramas, which possess a more subtle sense of humor and more sophisticated sense of staging. (Example: "Look Up! Look Up!", which seems like a typical riff on Coke as a symbol of nefarious globalization). Still, even when the thrust of his work seems obvious, there's much that's visually pleasing in his panoramas and other staged photos, and he discusses his work very intelligently.

If you get a chance to see Qingsong's work published well in an art magazine or specialized photography magazine like Blind Spot or Next Level, it's worth seeing...the color and detail, even in a modestly sized reproduction, is extremely vivid. Online, the color is more washed out, though the images are still enjoyable. Two recommended panoramas from 2003 to look at: "China Mansion", which could use more detail, but has an interesting accompanying discussion, and "Follow Me" (no discussion, but a witty image with excellent detail).

Worthwhile articles discussing Qingsong and the Chinese contemporary art and photography scene can be read at the website: three interesting ones come from the NY Times, from ArtKrush, and a more extensive discussion from Chinese contemporary art critic Li Xianting. Also recommended is this short interview with Qingsong about his recent work.


"Requesting Buddha No. 1" Wang Qingsong image

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