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Inspired by the Opera: Contemporary Chinese Photography and Video

Since the mid 1990s, a number of Chinese artists have incorporated the visual vocabulary of Chinese opera into new art forms. This concise exhibition reveals the continued relevance of opera, both within contemporary Chinese society and within the experimental work of individual artists.

February 13, 2014 12:00am to June 15, 2014 12:00am

This exhibition at the SMART Museum of Art at the University of Chicago features: The Forbidden City (Zijincheng) by Liu Wei, a lyrical video of theatrical “glove puppets” (budai kuilei) shown publicly for the first time; two videos by Chen Qiulin that make use of traditional opera characters to respond to changes wrought by the Three Gorges Dam; a series of black-and-white photographs of elderly actors by Liu Zheng that play with conventions of ethnographic and opera photography; and videos by Cui Xiuwen that connect to opera in more oblique ways, through performative elements and symbolic props, gestures, and costumes.

Together, the works help illuminate the relationship between contemporary art and China’s cultural heritage.


Inspired by the Opera is curated by Wu Hung, Harrie A. Vanderstappen Distinguished Service Professor of Art History, Director of the Center for the Art of East Asia, and Consulting Curator, Smart Museum of Art.

Presented in the Robert and Joan Feitler Gallery.

Image: Liu Zheng, An Old Peking Opera Actor Playing a Female Role, Beijing, 1995 (negative, this impression printed 2007), from the series My Countrymen (Guoren, alternately translated as The Chinese), Gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the artist.
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