Wang Qingsong




Wang Qingsong (born 1966) is one of China’s most acclaimed contemporary artists. Born at the start of the Cultural Revolution, Qingsong’s works comment on the overwhelming social and visual changes that have taken place in his native country over the last four and a half decades. He is represented in the United Kingdom by Huxley-Parlour gallery.

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Watch: Wang Qingsong's Cultural Revolution


[Translated from Chinese] Qingsong: when I moved to Beijing in 1993, I felt that it was completely different from my hometown, Jingzhou, which was an old town. From then on, I felt that society developed so fast, prices were going up quickly. The city was transforming rapidly. I felt that it was hard to capture this change through paintings, so I hoped I could find one medium to capture that, which would also be modernistic at the same time. Photography can seize the moments naturally. So I chose photography.

The reason the work got bigger has to do with the changes in society. Society is expanding, and so are people’s hopes. It has to do with society’s hopes. It has also to do with China’s cheap labour. I hope my work has that kind of Chinese characteristic…

Art for me is a duty. I have to complete it. Its not that I know how it is going to turn out, but I have to finish it.

[Presenter’s voices saying short news headings and quotes about Qingsong’s work]

Early Years

Wang Qingsong was born in northeastern China in 1966. He grew up in an area of oilfield towns where his parents were employed. After his father’s death in an oilfield accident, the teenage Wang Qingsong took his father’s place to help provide for his family. During the eight years that he worked on an oil-drilling platform, he also took part-time art classes and applied for China’s art academies. He was finally admitted to study painting in the Oil Painting Department of the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts. In 1993 Qingsong moved to Beijing, where at first, he persevered with painting, but later transitioned to photography and became a leading figure in the revolution in Chinese photography.

He began taking highly staged photographs that explore the influence of Western consumer culture in China. In more recent works he has explored political and social themes including the struggles of the migrant population and Chinese diplomacy. His photographs are known for their massive scale, deep symbolism and careful staging, which can sometimes take several weeks and involve up to 300 extras. Although photography is his main medium, he has explored performance and video art in more recent years.

Spectacle and Contemplation

‘Wang Qingsong’s photographs are an immediately impressive visual spectacle. They are often epic in their physical scale (regularly over three meters long), dazzling or gaudy in their colour palette, dynamic and emphatic in their composition and hugely ambitious in their production values. Behind many of the photographs lies an entire team of people working in a studio environment that is more like a theatre production or film set than a regular photographic shoot. There are models, props, special effects, and incredible feats of staging, all working together in preparation for the final photograph.

In addition to their technical and visual allure, Wang Qingsong’s images convey pressing social narratives and display his sardonic and critical intelligence. The mind behind the images is always evident: it is enquiring, playful, emphatic and satirical. His photographs co-opt the impact and visual vocabulary of western big-budget advertising as well as propaganda images of the Chinese Communist regime’s Cultural Revolution and uses them against themselves. At the same time, they channel the heritage of ancient Chinese arts such as scroll painting, as well as references to European old master paintings, and thereby meld both east and west, past and present.

Over the last twenty years, experimental artists have consistently responded to the drastic changes taking place in China: large-scale internal migration, the disappearance of traditional landscapes and lifestyles, the rise of mega-cities, the indulgence of consumer fantasies, a widening distance between rich and poor, and new urban cultures. Many of their works reflect a growing awareness of the fragility and mutability of China’s urban fabric. In the past two decades, China’s urban life has been completely transformed. Sprawling skyscraper cities have been created almost overnight, while historic urban centres have been utterly demolished, displacing tens of thousands of city dwellers. Although demolition and relocation were necessary to the much-needed urban modernization, the resulting social structure and its accompanying consumer culture have arguably brought about a growing alienation between the city and its residents. Wang Qingsong is one of the most powerful commentators on this recent situation in China. However, his work has a wider reach beyond the topical specifics of this time and place. It points out the age-old human contradictions between the material and the spiritual. It is true that isolation, greed, waste, excess, despair and folly and are often Wang Qingsong’s themes. Yet the fact that and he transforms them into art, and they are brought to our consciousness, means that he tackles them with hope.’ – -Martin Barnes, Senior Curator, Photographs, Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Exhibitions and Awards

Wang Qingsong’s work has been presented at prestigious galleries, museums and art fairs across the globe including the 55th Venice Biennale China Pavillion (Venice), the International Centre of Photography (NY), the Hammer Museum (Los Angeles), the Victoria and Albert Museum (London), the 42nd Rencontres de la Photographie (Arles), the Daegu Art Museum (Seoul), MOCA (Taipei), the Rockbund Art Museum (Shanghai) and the Mori Art Museum (Tokyo).

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