No place on earth has changed so much over the last 50 years as China. From civil war following the Japanese occupation, to Communist revolution and rigidity, to an emerging capitalist economy that is among the world's fastest growing, the Chinese people have undergone a half century of astonishing transformations. A new photography exhibition entitled "China: Fifty Years Inside the People's Republic" distills the essence of this period in 160 unforgettable images by 33 photographers from Asia, Europe and the United States.
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Presented in collaboration with Aperture Foundation, the exhibition will be on display at the Asia Society. Aperture, the world-renowned publisher of fine photography books and producer of exhibitions, is organizing the show, which will be accompanied by a 204 page catalogue with 67 four-color and 112 duotone images. The exhibition is made possible by Ford Motor Company, in keeping with their commitment to the life and culture of China and its people, and to excellence in photography.
The accompanying publication, China: Fifty Years Inside the People's Republic, is generously funded by The Starr Foundation. According to Vishakha N. Desai, Senior Vice President for Cultural Programs and Director of the Asia Society Galleries, "China: Fifty Years Inside the People's Republic" is not a documentary survey but a "highly personal, engaged, insiders' view of China and the Chinese during a time of unprecedented change."
"It thoroughly refutes the notion that 'artistic,' 'historical' and 'journalistic' are mutually contradictory categories," Desai said. "What you have here are visually stunning images that, precisely because of their high aesthetic quality, take you inside a particular time and place as no other medium can."
"For this exhibition and publication," adds Michael E. Hoffman, Executive Director of Aperture, "we sought out photographers who have spent a lifetime in China, or in the case of Western photographers, those whose long-term commitment to the country and its people offers a view from within." "In addition to presenting images by internationally-recognized photographers such as Sebastião Salgado, Wu Jialin, and Hiroji Kubota," said Hoffman, "we have brought together work by a number of image-makers who are not yet well known but who are worthy of worldwide attention, including some whose works have never before been exhibited in the West. It is our hope to provide a meaningful view of China through the personal perspective of the photographers."
"At Ford Motor Company, we believe the arts speak a universal language which transcends barriers to weave a common thread among all people," states Jacques Nasser, president and chief executive officer, Ford Motor Company. "As part of our dedication to become the world's leading consumer company for automotive products and services, our support for the arts is targeted to enhance the quality of life for those who live and work in the communities where we do business. We're proud to support China: Fifty Years Inside the People's Republic and other artistic efforts that educate, inspire cultural diversity and enrich the human spirit." To set the scene, the exhibition begins with a selection of black-and-white photographs from the era before the founding of the People's Republic in 1949. One picture, taken by U.S. diplomat Owen Lattimore (1900-1989), shows the youthful Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai posing for photojournalists at their Yanan refuge in 1937.
In keeping with the emphasis on the artistic value of these works, the rest of the exhibition is arranged not chronologically but in groups of images by individual photographers. Japanese-born Hiroji Kubota captures the excitement of a 1985 festival in Guangdong province in a red spray of fireworks. The large-format panoramic photographs of Lois Conner, who has been working in China since 1984, offer magnificent evocations of classical landscape painting as they present views of well-known sites from new and surprising points of view. In a series focusing on the generation of his parents, Wang Jinsong, who holds a degree in Chinese Painting from the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts (now the Chinese Academy of Fine Art), photographed his subjects in their homes, surround by household objects that speak of class and status as much as they do of personal tastes.
The Asia Society will present a number of related programs, including talks with photographers whose work is in the exhibition, such as "An Evening with Hiroji Kubota" on Wednesday, October 13 at 6:30 P.M., and "Photographing China Today" with Lois Conner and Brian Palmer on Thursday, October 28 at 6:30 P.M. In a related Meet the Author program, noted Sinologist Jonathan M. Spence will read from his latest book, Mao Zedong, on Tuesday, November 2 at 6:30 P.M. In addition, a series of Chinese films ranging from historic epics to contemporary dramas is being planned. The Asia Society is America's leading institution dedicated to fostering understanding of Asia and communication between Americans and the peoples of Asia and the Pacific. A nonprofit, nonpartisan educational institution, the Asia Society presents a wide range of programs including major art exhibitions, performances, media programs, international conferences and lectures, and initiatives to improve elementary and secondary education about Asia. The Asia Society is headquartered in New York City, with regional centers in Washington, D.C., Houston, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Melbourne, Australia, and representative offices in San Francisco, Seattle, Manila and Shanghai. For more information, contact the Asia Society, 725 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10021.
Aperture Foundation is an educational, charitable organization and public foundation devoted to photography and related visual arts. Aperture publishes a periodical, books, and portfolios of fine photography and produces world-class exhibitions to communicate with serious photographers and creative people everywhere. For more information, contact Aperture, 20 East 23rd Street, New York, NY 10010.
To learn more about Ford Motor Company, China: Fifty Years Inside the People's Republic and other programs made possible by Ford Motor Company, visit www.ford.com. After the Asia Society, the exhibition will travel to other venues in the United States and Canada, including the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts in Minnesota; the Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida; The Royal Ontario Museum in Ontario, Canada; the University of California Berkeley Art Museum; the Museo Deigo Aragona Pignatelli Cortes di Napoli in Naples; the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.; and to at least three venues in China and elsewhere in Asia. (For information about the tour, please contact Launa Beuhler, Aperture Traveling Exhibitions Director at (212) 505-5554, ext. 327, or e-mail email@example.com.)
For more information the public should contact Asia Society.