January 7, 2005

Smart Museum exhibit wins prestigious award

The United States members of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA USA) have given students and community members one more reason to patronize the University's Smart Museum of Art. The Museum, under-acknowledged and under-appreciated by many, won a highly coveted "Best Show" award in December for its exhibition Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video from China. The Smart Museum of Art will share the award with New York's Institute for Contemporary Photography (ICP), which co-organized the exhibit. The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in Chicago and the Asiatic Society in New York collaborated on the show.

Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video from China is the first comprehensive exhibition in the United States to show innovations in photographic and video art produced in China since the mid-1990s. The exhibit displays and considers a broad range of individual responses to the unprecedented growth and change China has experienced in its recent, turbulent history, but especially in the last decade.

The exhibition was co-curated by Wu Hung, Harrie A. Vanderstappen Professor of Art History and consulting curator at the Smart Museum, and Christopher Phillips, Curator at the Internatinal Center of Photography.

Initial work on the show began about four years ago, as Hung, a well-known scholar of traditional Chinese art, grew intensely interested in contemporary Chinese photography. His enthusiasm in the subject led him to Phillips, who was also interested in organizing an exhibition on contemporary Chinese photography.

Jacqueline Terrassa, Interim Director and Educational Director at the Smart, explained that because of the scale of the project, the initial collaboration between the Smart and ICP was soon extended to the Asiatic Society in New York and the MCA in Chicago.

"Early on we realized that the size of the works and their number made for a show that was too large for our respected museums," she said. "This four institution collaboration made the planning process over the past several years both complex and exciting."

Rare in its scope and size, the exhibition includes 130 pieces of art by 60 artists, ranging from a relatively small, untitled piece of 10 pairs of handmade shoes by Yin Xiuzhen to 1/30th of a Second Underwater by Wang Wei, a large floor installation designed to be walked on. The exhibition is divided and displayed thematically.

Additionally, this is the first time many of the artists have been displayed in the United States. Hung said he could not even remember how many visits he had paid to China or how many shows he had seen there in recent years preparing for the exhibition.

Hung noted that while China has been thrust into the international spotlight because of its staggering growth and emerging role as a global power, the country has also experienced tremendous internal growing pains. He felt that the Smart Museum was particularly well suited to display these lesser-told tales.

"University shows differ from others because they present more challenging, more cutting edge, and less mainstream art," he said. Hung added that the themes and ideas seen in the Chinese exhibit are representative of the incredible changes taking place not only in China, but in the rest of the developing world.

Benjamin Gage, a third-year concentrating in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, agreed with Hung, noting that one can witness the immense changes taking place in much of the world by spending an hour or so at the museum. "The great thing about art and this exhibit in particular is that you can get an emotional impression of what a person on the streets of a Chinese city might tell you about current conditions in China or popular perceptions of issues in Chinese society and history," Gage said.

Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video From China is on display in Chicago at the Smart Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art until January 16. It will travel to Seattle, Santa Barbara, London, and Berlin.