Chinese Contemporary at FotoFest

Newer staged photos disappoint

The New World Museum features Cang Xin's series Man and Sky as One. Many of his massive color photographs use as their backdrop the spectacular mountain formations most of us have only seen in traditional Chinese landscape paintings. They're even more stunning in the exaggerated color of Cang's photographic landscapes. Skies are bluer than blue, grass is so green it almost looks plastic. In these surroundings, Cang stages various scenes, mainly involving naked people and fire. There is a feeling of individual and collective rituals and ceremonies to the images, but they still fall short. They aren't quite strange enough or spectacular enough to really move beyond large, attractive images. Cang seems to be hinting at deeply profound content that the images don't quite deliver. Maybe it's because of some cultural gap, or maybe it just isn't there.

Quelling the White Bone Demon displays an appealing blend of camp and myth.
Courtesy of Three Shadows Photography Arts Centre, Beijing
Quelling the White Bone Demon displays an appealing blend of camp and myth.
"New Photo, 1993-1998"
FotoFest Headquarters,
1113 Vine St., 713-223-5522

"Current Perspectives, 1998-2008"
FotoFest at Bering & James, Inc.,
805 Rhode Place,713-524-0101

FotoFest at the Art League Houston,
1953 Montrose Blvd., 713-523-9530

FotoFest at the New World Museum,
5230 Center St., 713-426-4544

FotoFest at Williams Tower Gallery,
2800 Post Oak, 713-223-5522

Chinese contemporary art is in a weird place right now. It really has only a 20-or-so-year history, but it is garnering tremendous international commercial interest. And while the political environment for artists has loosened up considerably, it is far from completely free and unfettered. That is no doubt reflected in the choices artists make. And while there is good, interesting and original work being made in China, there is also a huge amount of work that seems glossy and specifically targeted towards a Western market and/or that seems to be simply mimicking pre-existing art strategies without internalizing them. I'd like to see what's going on 20 years from now.

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