Tseng Kwong Chi
August 18, 2015 — December 13, 2015
Performing for the Camera
Welcome to the first major museum retrospective of the work of Tseng Kwong Chi, a photographer with an eye for the theatrical and a well-connected chronicler of the ’80s art-and-club scene in Manhattan. This exhibition integrates his best-known works—collaborations with Keith Haring and his droll East Meets West and Expeditionary photographic series—with a detailed survey of other, less-exhibited pieces. Tseng died in 1990 at the age of 39, and his work has proven to be not only enduring but highly influential.
The exhibition was conceived and curated by the late Amy Brandt, McKinnon Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Chrysler Museum of Art, and is presented in her memory.
From the curator
“Until now, the critical understanding of Tseng’s multifaceted oeuvre has been limited by the few works, mostly from the East Meets West series, that have been on public view,” Brandt wrote. “Audiences have not had the opportunity to take in the full scope of Tseng’s powerful imagery, with its striking social, political, and philosophical implications, nor to appreciate his impact on younger generations of artists.”
The exhibition, co-organized by the Chrysler and the Grey Art Gallery of New York University, includes Tseng’s portraits of fellow members of the East Village scene and notable artists of his day. It features photo projects involving South Jersey lifeguards, beachgoers at Jacob Riis Park, a collection of witty party-crasher photographs from the 1980 gala reception for Costumes at the Met, and selections from a satirical photo critique of conservative politicians called “It’s a Reagan World!” In an illustration of the technology of the day, the exhibit includes rare, hand-crafted photo montages and a series of panels created from multiple Polaroids.
A common theme, running from his epic Expeditionary selfies to his costume and party pictures, is performance as an expression of identity.
The exhibition’s subtitle, Performing for the Camera, emphasizes the aspects of masquerade, theatricality, and performance at the root of his conceptual photographic practice.
The exhibition opened at NYU’s Grey Art Gallery (April 21–July 11) and after being on display here, it will travel to the Tufts University Art Gallery in Medford, Mass., Jan. 21–May 22, 2016; and to the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., Sept. 17–Dec. 11, 2016.
Tseng Kwong Chi: Performing for the Camera is accompanied by an illustrated 176-page publication with an introduction and four essays exploring Tseng’s work, his place in the New York City art scene, and his importance for contemporary artists who also address issues of identity, politics, and performance.