Worldwide icon-chevron-right North America icon-chevron-right United States icon-chevron-right New York State icon-chevron-right New York icon-chevron-right Preview Tseng Kwong Chi's first-ever retrospective

Heads up! We’re working hard to be accurate – but these are unusual times, so please always check before heading out.

Preview Tseng Kwong Chi's first-ever retrospective

Images from the Hong Kongese celebrity shutterbug and performance artist convey his alien perspective of the Reagan era

By Howard Halle
Advertising

According to Ronald Reagan, the 1980s represented “morning again” in America. In New York, Pop Art came roaring back in different forms and an exploding downtown club scene overlapped with the art world, while graffiti entered the hallowed precincts of high culture. Foreign artists started coming to New York in larger numbers, becoming more visible than ever before.

A survey of Tseng Kwong Chi's (1950–1990) photographs, opening April 21 at NYU’s Grey Art Gallery, shows the Hong Kong-born artist trading on his fish-out-of-water status in a country shrugging off its post-Vietnam defeatism and re-embracing its mythic sense of exceptionalism. Tseng’s work involved portraits of celebrity artists (Warhol; Haring; Basquiat), members of the downtown demimonde now lost to time, and conservative political figures (Jerry Falwell; William F. Buckley, Jr.). He also engaged in what might be called performance art for the camera, dressing up in a Mao suit, and posing himself, Cindy-Sherman style, within scenes made strange by his alien presence: In front of the former Twin Towers and the Brooklyn Bridge; at a fancy Metropolitan Museum opening. In each, the remote shutter release is clearly visible, while Tseng can be seen standing stiffly or exuberantly jumping into the air.

Tseng’s work was all about artifice—his own, but also that of his adopted home, which at a crucial moment in its history chose self-delusion over reformation. Dying of AIDS in 1990, Tseng didn’t live long enough to witness how the Reagan Revolution played out, but his satirical, outsider observations of the period continue to bite today.

Tseng Kwong Chi
Courtesy Muna Tseng Dance Projects

Tseng Kwong Chi, East Meets West Manifesto, 1983, from the "East Meets West" series

Tseng Kwong Chi
Courtesy Muna Tseng Dance Projects

Tseng Kwong Chi, New York, New York (Brooklyn Bridge), 1979, from the "East Meets West" series

Advertising
Tseng Kwong Chi
Courtesy Muna Tseng Dance Projects

Tseng Kwong Chi, New York, New York (World Trade Center), 1979, from the "East Meets West" series

Tseng Kwong Chi
Courtesy Muna Tseng Dance Projects

Tseng Kwong Chi, Andy Warhol (New York), c. 1986, from the "Portraits of the Artists" series

Advertising
Tseng Kwong Chi
Courtesy Muna Tseng Dance Projects

Tseng Kwong Chi, Keith Haring (New York), 1988, from the "Portraits of the Artists" series

Tseng Kwong Chi
Courtesy Muna Tseng Dance Projects

Tseng Kwong Chi, Bill T. Jones, body painted by Keith Haring, London, 1983

Advertising
Tseng Kwong Chi
Courtesy Muna Tseng Dance Projects

Tseng Kwong Chi, Art After Midnight, New York, 1985

Tseng Kwong Chi
Courtesy Muna Tseng Dance Projects

Tseng Kwong Chi, Monique van Vooren, Andy Warhol, his entourage, and Tseng Kwong Chi, 1980, from the "Costumes at the Met" series

Advertising
Tseng Kwong Chi
Courtesy Muna Tseng Dance Projects

Tseng Kwong Chi, It's a Reagan World! (Kenny Scharf and Ann Magnuson), 1981

Tseng Kwong Chi
Courtesy Muna Tseng Dance Projects

Tseng Kwong Chi, William F. Buckley Jr., 1981, from the "Moral Majority" series

See the exhibition

Tseng Kwong Chi, CROPPED THUMB
Courtesy Muna Tseng Dance Projects

“Tseng Kwong Chi: Performing for the Camera”

Art Photography

Born in Hong Kong, Tseng was something of an art- and club-scene fixture during the go-go ’80s, a celebrity shutterbug who documented downtown nightlife, as well as a performance artist for the camera whose photographic self-portraits capture him in a Mao suit, posing fish-out-of-water style against New York and American landmarks. This first-ever retrospective revisits his alien’s perspective of the Reagan era.

Recommended

    You may also like

      Advertising