Qingsong Wang

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branding, capitalism, consumerism, modernity, tradition
Visual Arts (photography)
Asia, Eastern
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August 23, 2003
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Qingsong Wang
Qingsong Wang


Glorious Life

Sweeter than Honey

Qingsong Wang works in documentary, staged and scroll photography, computer generated images and sculpture. He focuses on the contradictions of contemporary Chinese social reality generated by the country’s rapid economic development and from western influence. Many of his works critique the worship of global brand names that defines much of China’s consumerist society today though he is equally stringent towards regressive traditionalism that seeks to deflect external cultural pressures. Wang’s imaginative pieces are humorous, devastating and inspirational by turn.
‘My photographic works witness and emulate a variety of social phenomena in the course of the modern construction of “socialism with Chinese characteristics”. By putting on stories in my photographs, viewers can clearly discern my attitude towards social phenomena in current times. If my works can provide further reflections for other people, I will be even happier.’

Qingsong Wang uses documentary photography and ironic photo-based art to capture the contradictions of contemporary Chinese social reality and to express the ruptures occurring between tradition and modernity as China rapidly helter skelters into haphazard economic development and modernisation. His perspective reveals the sharp inconsistencies, paradoxes and confusions generated by what he calls this ‘glorious life which is sweeter than honey’.

‘Take a look at our cities overflowing with skyscrapers, shopping plazas, Karaoke, discos, bars, clubs and so on,’ he says. ‘This overabundance of foreign things has “popularized” our agricultural country. But this popularity is somewhat funny, somewhat contradictory, and somewhat wild ... Traditional and elite culture have been weakened. Their vitality has been negated, only to be discarded in garbage bins. This is the new century and the new China.’

Wang pays tribute to this bold, uneven China, using stage theatrics to narrate post/modern day stories in photographic format for works such as ‘Thinker’ (1998), ‘Prisoner’ (1998), ‘Catcher’ (1998), ‘Bath House’ (2000), ‘Forum’ (2001) and ‘Beggar’ (2001). In ‘Look Up! Look Up!’ (2000), a cluster of women, skimpily dressed in brightly coloured mini-dresses and sandals, tilt their heavily made-up faces up to the sky. A man standing among directs their attention, stretching his arm out and pointing in awe to the incandescent vision that hovers above them. The modern day divinity is nothing more than a bottle of Coca Cola. Later works, the scroll photos ‘Knickknack Peddler’ and ‘Preschool’ hints at one reason behind pervasiveness of American culture. The artist dressed as a peddler pushes foreign goods on to children.

‘Can I Cooperate with You?’ (2000) offers an altogether more disquieting perspective of Euro-American and Chinese relations. The same cast of Chinese women brandish upside-down heart shaped banners which bear the McDonalds and Coca Cola logos. They surround a white male who reclines in a modern day rickshaw. His expression could be interpreted as either haughty or hostile. At some distance, a Chinese man stands, passively holding up a handkerchief of the flag of China to them. While this scenario already unravels the political and cultural positions of so many players, the power of this work lies in the two figures between them. One stands, clasping his fists beseechingly but cannot look at his potential benefactors. The other, kneeling on the floor, holds a cup in both hands. The two figures are alarming for the artist has diminished their size so that they appear even smaller than the young girl propped on the edge of the rickshaw before them. With this subtle manipulation of scale, a sense of the uncanny is made hauntingly present.

Humorous yet devastating by implication, works such as these point to the contradictory forces at work in Chinese society today. Despite economic development, the vast country continues to struggle under the pressure of over 1.3 billion people to clothe, feed and house. Yet poverty and need are, as Wang’s works suggest, now glossed over by the glamorous veneer of designer labels (little matter if they are fake), a luxury real estate industry built upon lavish concepts of a ‘Chinese Manhattan’ and an ‘Oriental Versailles’ and an absurd privileging of American culture such that the fast foods of McDonalds and Pizza Hut become the new haute cuisine. ‘On the surface, this phenomenon represents an ideal of Euro-American material life’, the artist concedes, ‘But in such an era of globalisation, does this ideal also represent worship that can create a ridiculous contradiction?’ he asks.

Indeed, Wang also comments on the effects of consumerist society on spirituality in his ‘Requesting Buddha’ series. Here the once respectable Bodhisattva reaches its hands out insatiably for money and material goods towards every troubled person. ‘What a pity that it has only one thousand hands!’ the artist exclaims, ‘If it had ten thousand hands, it would become a billionaire on the earth whose assets surpass those of Bill Gates’.

While Wang is clearly critical of the injustice and hypocrisy engendered by some developments in China, he reserves equal scepticism of those against the country’s modernisation. His ‘Another Battle’ series is influenced by the images of patriotism and heroism of old movies that he watched as a child. ‘Economic reform and modern reconstruction are like a war that progresses and changes so rapidly and intensely. In this war, we have to face contradictions from both Chinese ancient civilisation and modern western civilisation … In this battle of ‘defending our country’, though without fire and gunshots, I portray myself as a defeated commander.’

As well as his photographic works, Wang has said that ‘To keep track of my reflection upon our past, consideration of our present and depiction of our future, I find the urban sculpture best reveals our history and ideal.’ In the triptych ‘Past, Present, and Future’ (2001), the artist portray himself as a bystander, bearing witness to fighters in poses mimicking monumental Communist sculptures, whose appearance in mud, silver and golden powder hints at their historic period, from the revolutionary era to the modernisation and on to the future. With this work, Wang asks us to reflect ‘upon the history of the past, reconstruction of the present and beauty of the future’.

In recent pieces, Wang has turned his attention to the influence of western perspectives in other realms. In ‘Art Express Bus’, for example Wang pokes fun at the international art biennales. Visible on one side are the Venice Biennale, Documenta, Sao Paulo Bienal and Istanbul Biennial. On the other are Wang’s creations: the Qingsong Biennale, Songzhuang Biennale (Songzhuang is the central gathering place for artists in Beijing), the Biennale of Heaven and the Biennale of Hell. In ‘Sentry Post’, he takes up the more serious fallout from a globalised world, depiciting ‘refugees’ trying to push through a sentry post built with cans bearing global brands. The artist himself keeps guard, holding a coke can as a grenade.

In 2003, Wang began his ‘False Flowers’ series, five photographs depicting the peony, China’s national flower where it is held as a symbol of prosperity. The artist however made the petals of the peonies from food using vegetables, lamb, beef and chips, shooting one set on completion and another set after five days during which the peonies kept refridgerated. Wang explains, ‘This gives a transition from prosperity to solidity, from brilliance to decay or forever and allows for unrestrained imagination of what we have been experiencing in our history so far.’

In Wang’s latest work, ‘Chinese Mansion’ (2003), the artist consolidates his view of the contradictory forces affecting China. He sums up his view saying, ‘Foreign specialists helped create many opportunities and bring many advanced thoughts to China. However, they also manufacture many uncertain and disturbing ideas. Due to such a quick inflow and outflow of advanced concepts, Chinese people are confused about what is right and what is wrong sometimes.’ The work is a scroll photograph of a Chinese style home. In the five scenes, Wang ‘invites’ foreign dignitaries of the art world, including figures from paintings by Rubens, Courbet, Monet, Gauguin, Klein, Jones, Rembrandt to join his ‘Chinese family’ in order to ‘make them communicate with each other across centuries and cultures and create certain relationships between themselves as well as with China’. He explains, ‘Such relationships portend an uncertain, humorous and confusing though glamorous future. Such communication may fail but it nevertheless brings life and enthusiasm to a Chinese audience.’


Qingsong Wang was born in Hubei Province, China in 1966. He studied at the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts in Sichuan in 1991 and since 1993 he has been living and working in Beijing.


Another Battle

Photograph, 180x120cm, exhibited in 2003 ‘Noorderlicht 2003 Photofestival’, Groningen, the Netherlands 2003 ‘Mois de La Photo Montreal – Now, Images of Present Time’, Montreal, Canada 2002 ‘Money and Value/The Last Taboo’, Basel, Switzerland 2002 ‘Chinese Modernity’, Museum of the Foundation Armando Alvares Penteado, Sao Paulo, Brazil

The Past, the Present and the Future

photograph, 120x (200+150+200)cm, triptych, exhibited in 2005 ´Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video from China´, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK 2002 ´Chinese Modernity´, Museum of the Foundation Armando Alvares Penteado, Sao Paulo, Brazil 2002 ´Paris-Pekin´, Espace Cardin, Paris, France

Night Revel of Lao Li

Photograph, 120 x 960cm, exhibited in 2005 ´Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video from China´, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK 2003 ´Fashion and Style´, The Museum Moscow House of Photography, Moscow, Russia 2002 ´Paris-Pekin´, Espace Cardin, Paris, France 2002 ´Chinese Modernity´, Museum of the Foundation Armando Alvares Penteado, Sao Paulo, Brazil 2001 ´Promenade in Asia: Cute´, Art Mito Tower, Japan 2001 ´Next Generation´, Passage de Retz, Paris, France Fashion and Style, The Museum Moscow House of Photography, Moscow, Russia, 2003.

Requesting Buddha

Photograph, 180 x 120cm exhibited in 2003 ‘Noorderlicht 2003 Photofestival’, Groningen, the Netherlands 2000 ‘Man + Space’, 3rd Kwangju Biennale, Kwangju, Korea. 2000 ‘BIG TORINO 2000 Biennale Arte Emergente’, Turin, Italy

Selected Group Exhibitions

Exhibition / Installation
2006 "Zhao Bandi, Zhang Dali, Wang Qingsong, ...", Beijing Commune, Beijing, China "Great Peformance", Max Protetch Gallery, New York, USA "Mahjong", Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany "China – Between Past and Future", House of World Cultures, Berlin, Germany "Made in China", The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago, USA 2005 "Beyond Delirious", Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation (CIFO), Miami, USA "Re-viewing the City --- Guangdong International Photo Biennale", Guangdong Museum of Art, Guangzhou, China "Over One Billion Served", Singapore Civilizations Museum, Singapore, Singapore "Follow me! Contemporary Chinese Art at the Threshold of the Millenium", Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan "Between Past and Future: New Photography from China", Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, USA "Between Past and Future: New Photography from China", V&A Museum, London, Great Britain "Baroque and Neobaroque --- The Hell of the Beauty", Domus Artium 2002, Salamanca, Spain 2004 "Over One Billion Served", Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver, USA "Photosynkyria --- Photography as Narrative Art", Thessaloniki Museum of Photography, Thessaloniki, Greece "Spellbound Aura --- Contemporary Chinese Photography", MOCA, Taipei, Taiwan "Officina", Galeria of Modern Arte, Bologna, Italy "Between Past and Future: New Photography from China", International Center of Photography, New York, USA "Die Chinese", Kunst Museum Wolfsburg, Wolfsburg, Germany "Exposure", Hereford Photography Festival, Herefordshire, Great Britain "Past in Reverse", San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, USA "Grotesque Reality", National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul, Korea 2003 "Images Against War", Gallerie Lichtblick, Cologne, Germany "A Strange Heaven", Galerie Rudolfinum, Prague, Czechia "China Art Now --- Out of the Red", Trevi Flash Art Museum, Trevi, Italy "Fashion and Style", The Museum Moscow House of Photography, Moscow, Russia "Global Detail", Noorderlicht 2003 Photofestival, Groningen, Netherlands "Now, Images of Present Time", Mois de La Photo Montreal, Montreal, Canada "Contemporary Chinese Photography", Rudolfinum Art Museum, Prague, Czechia 2002 "Falsche Emotionen", Kunstbunker Tumulka, Munich, Germany "Run, Jump, Climb and Walk", East Modern Art Center, Beijing, China "Money and Value", The Last Taboo, Basel, Switzerland "Special Projects", P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York, USA "Chinese Modernity", Museum of the Foundation Armando Alvares Penteado, Sao Paulo, Brazil The 2nd Pinyao International Photography Festival, Shanxi Province, China "Paris-Pekin", Espace Cardin, Paris, France "CHINaRT", Museum Kuppersmuhle,Zeitgenoessische Kunst,Duisburg, Germany 2001 "Constructed Reality --- Conceptual Photography from Beijing", Hong Kong Arts Center, Hong Kong, China "Next Generation". Passage de Retz, Paris, France "China Album", Nice Contemporary Art Museum, Nice, France "16th Asian Contemporary Art Exhibition", Guangdong Art Museum, Guangzhou, China 2000 "Man + Space", 3rd Kwangju Biennale 2000, Kwangju, Korea "BIG TORINO 2000", Biennale Arte Emergente, Turino, Italy "China Avant-Garde Artists Documenta", Fukuoka Museum of Art, Fukoka, Japan "Unusual and Usual", Yuangong Art Museum, Shanghai, China 1999 "Ouh La La, Kitsch!", TEDA Contemporary Art Museum, Tianjin, China "SYNERGI: Fourteen Danish and Foreign Artists Exhibit", Udviklings Center Odsherred, Copenhagen, Denmark 1998 "Sites of Desire: 1998 Taipei Biennial", Taipei Museum of Fine Arts, Taipei, Taiwan 1996 "China!", Kunst Museum, Bonn, Germany "Gaudy Life", Wan Fung Art Gallery, Beijing, China

Selected Solo Exhibitions

Exhibition / Installation
2005 "WANG Qingsong", Galerie Patrick Veret, Arras, France "WANG Qingsong", "Guangdong Museum of Art - Triennial", Guangzhou, China 2004 "Wang Qingsong --- Romantique", Salon 94, New York, USA "Wang Qingsong --- Romantique", Courtyard Gallery, Beijing, China "Wang Qingsong", Gallerie Loft, Paris, France "Present Day Epics", Southern Alberta Art Gallery, Lethbridge, Canada 2003 "Wang Qingsong: Present-day Epics", Saidye Bronfman Contemporary Art Center, Montreal, Canada "Wang Qingsong: Present-day Epics", Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art, Toronto, Canada "Night junket of Lao Li", Moscow House of Photography, Moscow, Russia 2002 "Golden Future --- Photography by Wang Qingsong", Galerie LOFT, Paris, France "Wang Qingsong Photographic Works Exhibition", Marella Arte Contemporanea, Milano, Italy "Wang Qingsong Photography", Foundation Oriente, Macao, China 2000 "Glorious Life --- The Photographs of Wang Qingsong", Wan Fung Art Gallery, Beijing, China 1997 "Wang Qingsong Painting Exhibition", Chinese Contemporary, London, Great Britain


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.

China - Between Past and Future

A project on contemporary art in China

(24 March 06 - 14 May 06)


Wang Qingsong

Artist´s website

Special Projects Summer 2002

PS1, New York´s website with information about Wang Qingsong´s participation in the Special Projects Summer 2002

Kult Magazine

Article in Italian including discussion of Wang Qingsong’s ‘Requesting Buddha’

Gwangju Biennale

Wang Qingsong´s participation in the Gwangju Biennale including artist´s statement and images

‘Art in America: Monoculture and Its Discontents’

Discussion of Wang Qingsong´s works
Look up! Look up!
Requesting Buddha Series #1