I think I’ve found my favourite exhibition in Hong Kong this year – it’s at the Ben Brown Fine Arts Gallery in the Pedder Building. When I walked in, I had no idea what to expect and I was blown away.
I had no idea who Tseng Kwong Chi and at a first glance, I thought, ok these are selfies. But then I walked around, looked at the pictures closely and realised they are old – actually much older than I had thought they would be. I guessed that they might be 10-15 years old, but actually they are between 25-30 years old!
The photos show always the same guy, Tseng Kwong Chi, himself in front of monuments. The first ones were taken in America, including the Statue of Liberty, Cape Canaveral, Disney Land and the World Trade Center, others in France, the Netherlands, some in Italy – and the series name ‘East meets West’ made complete sense. It started in 1979 when Tseng Kwong Chi put on a thrift store Mao-era suit to enter a “coat-and-tie” restaurant in New York and was mistaken by the maître d’ for a Chinese dignitary.
Posing at iconic tourist sites, Tseng displayed dramatic camera angles and spatial compressions in his early work. In the mid- to late 1980s, however, he abandoned the use of a cabled shutter release and worked with an assistant (that’s how he took the shots in the Grand Canyon for instance).
By moving further from the camera and at times almost disappearing into the landscape, Tseng transformed his photographs into modern references to the grand tradition of nineteenth-century American landscape painting. They are mind-blowing – especially the large-size ones. Reading up after visiting this gallery visit, I realised that some of the images had never been enlarged to such a big size – it’s the first time they are shown to the public in XXL format.
And what better place to do this, then in Hong Kong. Why Hong Kong? Well, that is where Tseng was born in 1950. He left Hong Kong in 1966 and moved to Canada, studied in Paris and finally settled in New York. Unfortunately, Tseng died at a young age of 39 in 1990 – it’s a shame, it would have been interesting to see what else he would have created!
Also do check out the website of his estate, it shows lots of other image series – there’s one called artists in their studio. It includes Andy Warhol and Grace Jones among others – especially hundreds images of Keith Haring during/and his work. Finally, watch a short documentary about his East meets West project.