Ai Weiwei, Frog King Kwok, Tehching Hsieh and Martin Wong: while they are all of Chinese heritage, they hailed from different places, contexts, and lineages, and have been situated in wildly divergent art historical narratives and discursive matrices. Ai came from Mainland China, Hsieh from Taiwan, Kwok from Hong Kong, and Wong from San Francisco. All of them arrived in New York between the late 1970s and the early ’80s.
This exhibition explores actual and concrete, as well as tenuous or even possibly non-existing connections between four artists in New York in the heady years of the 1980s and the early 1990s. How did these four artists end up in New York in the 1980s and early 1990s? Did they know one another? What new lessons might we learn about the storied time and place of art history, and also about the divergent practices of these figures—well known in their respective contexts—by considering their work together?
Thanks to existing documentation and remembrances, certain connections between the four artists were clear from the beginning of the inquiry.”Taiping Tianguo” (Heavely Kingdom of Eternal Peace) was the name of the domain established in southern China by the Taiping Rebellion in the mid-nineteenth century. Wong used the name as the inspiration for a now-lost painting, and it was in turn proposed as the title of a posthumous exhibition of his work. Borrowed by the present exhibition, the title serves as a metaphor for the New York of the 1980s and early 1990s—a crucial place and time for the lives and works of the four artists in the exhibition.For all of them, New York in those years represented a time-space filled with freedom and possibilities that incubated their artistic visions and imaginations. By excavating and reestablishing their connections, this exhibition ventures an alternative narrative to those that disregard these artists’ personal connections in favor of city- or nation-specific, or formalist histories. By strengthening this narrative, the exhibition also hopes to contribute to a critical understanding of this time period, which also marked the first decade of contemporary Chinese art, and the prelude to the era of globalized contemporary art.
In addition to selected works by four artists and related archival materials, this presentation at e-flux will include re-creations of historical installations by Kwok as well as guided tours of downtown by New York-based artists, writers, and curators.
The exhibition was first shown at Para Site from May to August 2012. It subsequently traveled to SALT Beyoğlu, Istanbul, and National University Singapore Museum. The project is co-organized by the curatorial initiative, A Future Museum for China, and Para Site.
Curated by Cosmin Costinas and Doryun Chong.
- Frog King Kwok, Photo of various people wearing the artist’s “Froggies” (detail) 1980s Courtesy the artist
- Martin Wong, Digital Print of First Letter Home from New York (Also I Joined the Museum of Modern Art), 1978. Courtesy the Estate of Martin Wong