Block Museum Board honors former Provost with acquisition of works by Tseng Kwong Chi

  • Works acquired by the Block through gift made by the Museum’s Board of Advisors
  • Gift presented in honor of Daniel Linzer, Northwestern Provost 2007-2017
  • Additional gift made to the museum by Estate of Tseng Kwong Chi

The Block museum is pleased to announce the acquisition of a suite of works by Tseng Kwong Chi (1950–1990).  Two significant photographs by the artist were recently presented to the museum as a gift from its Board of Advisors, in honor of Daniel Linzer, who served as Northwestern University Provost from 2007-2017.  As provost, Linzer was instrumental in championing the Block’s interdisciplinary mission and vision.  Linzer departed from Northwestern in July 2017 to serve as president of the Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA).  In conjunction with the Board’s gift, seven additional works were offered directly to the museum as generous gifts from Muna Tseng Dance Projects Inc. and the Estate of Tseng Kwong Chi.

“The Block Museum is doubly grateful, first to Daniel Linzer for his decade of service to Northwestern University, and his unflagging support of the Block Museum of Art.  We are also grateful to our Board of Advisors who recognized the importance of Linzer’s leadership to the Block’s success, and for their generosity in bringing Tseng Kwong Chi’s important work to Northwestern University, where it will be used in teaching and learning across campus.” notes Lisa Corrin the Block Museum’s Ellen Phillips Katz Director

About Tseng Kwong Chi

Born in Hong Kong, educated in Vancouver and Paris, and later based in New York City, Tseng Kwong Chi (1950–1990) produced a large body of witty, playful, performance-based photography that both captured the pivotal downtown Manhattan art and club scenes of the 1980s and reflected the increasingly globalized movement of people across nations and continents. Tseng called himself an “inquisitive traveler, a witness of my time and an ambiguous ambassador.” His works alternately function as witness to his life and community and as wry social commentary, raising critical questions about identity and culture.

In Fall of 2016, the Block Museum of Art presented the major exhibition Tseng Kwong Chi: Performing for the Camera, which originated by New York University’s Grey Art Gallery and the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia The exhibition featured over 80 photographs including well-known works from the series East Meets West (Expeditionary Self-Portraits) and Costumes at the Met, New York which the Board of Advisors purchased for the museum.

About the Block Museum Gift

This selection of photographs acquired by the Block Museum, provides a sample of Tseng’s artistic evolutions, starting with his cultural role-playing at a costume gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art  in the Costumes at the Met series  (1980). Posing with socialites and major figures from the worlds of art, politics, and fashion, while dressed in his iconic Mao suit, Tseng took snapshots that freeze moments of perfectly orchestrated irony.

Four of the works are from Tseng’s Moral Majority series which were originally taken for story in a 1981 Soho Weekly News article entitled “Right Face: The Conservative Cast in Focus.” For the series, Tseng invited individuals associated with the politically conservative Moral Majority to pose in front of a wrinkled American flag, when asked the condition of the flag, Tseng replied that it was meant to look as if it were blowing in the wind.  For this series Tseng exchanges his Mao suit for a seersucker suit to identify with, rather than distinguish himself from his subjects.

The acquisition also features later photographs from Tseng’s Expeditionary Series. Where earlier photographs from his tours around the world feature Tseng large in the frame, standing tall and confident in front of Notre Dame in Paris, or in the middle of Times Square, these two examples of later works Shrine of Democracy (1986); and Wisconsin, (tractors) (1987) represent the culmination of his work in compositions that drown his dwarfed figure and seem to highlight the overwhelming power of his surroundings.

Tseng Kwong Chi’s work is in line with the Block’s commitment to collecting art created from diverse perspectives, while expanding upon the collection’s traditional areas of strength in photography and works on paper. In addition to being influential within the New York scene of the 1980s, Tseng’s work has played an important role in the development of contemporary Chinese art. In the 1980s artists such as Ai Weiwei, Zhang Huan, and Song Dong, learned about Tseng’s photographs through American art magazines, and were influenced by his work. The Block is committed not only to maintaining a global perspective but to promoting interdisciplinary discussions, both of which are brought out by Tseng’s humorously critical and satirical photographs.

Image:  Tseng Kwong Chi, Shrine of Democracy: Mount Rushmore, Black Hills, South Dakota, from The Expeditionary Series, (1986), Gelatin silver, selenium-toned 36 x 36 in. Edition 4 of 9, Collection Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art

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