tseng kwong chi
Photo Tseng Kwong Chi "Keith Haring and Tseng Kwong Chi" 1982
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Tseng Kwong Chi (1950 Hong Kong - 1990 New York) was a photographer and performer internationally known for his photographic series East Meets West (a.k.a. Expeditionary Self-Portrait Series). At age 10, he began Chinese painting classes in Hong Kong and was regarded as a child prodigy. In 1966, his family immigrated to Vancouver, Canada. He received his formal art training in Paris and graduated with honors in 1975.
Shortly after his arrival in New York City in 1978, Tseng Kwong Chi became friends with Keith Haring, John Sex, Kenny Scharf, Bill T. Jones, and other luminaries of the downtown scene. He was an important documentarian and denizen of the downtown 1980’s New York club and art scene. Invited to be Keith’s official photo-chronicler, Tseng captured Haring’s guerilla style underground subway drawings, political actions, and collaborations with peers. This decade long friendship created the world’s largest photo archive of Keith Haring.
In the provocative images that comprise the East Meets West series, Tseng poses–always donning his stereotypical Mao suit–in front of iconic architecture and sublime nature as his invented artistic persona, a Chinese “Ambiguous Ambassador.” “A cross between Ansel Adams and Cindy Sherman,” his work explores tourist photography in a playful juxtaposition of truth, fiction, and identity, while also paying homage to landmarks and the grandeur and mystery of nature.
During one of his early performative photographic expeditions for the Soho Weekly News in 1980, he crashed a high society party at Diane Vreeland’s “Manchu Dragon Robes” exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Tasked simply with photographing their lavish outfits, Tseng instead posed as a Chinese “Ambiguous Ambassador,” interviewed the guests and repeatedly photographed himself next to royalty and famous designers.
In 1990, Tseng died at age 39 from complications related to the AIDS virus, leaving an enduring body of work that engages major photographic traditions — the tourist snapshot, portraiture, the Sublime tradition of landscape photography, documentary and performance. Tseng’s photographs have been exhibited widely in international exhibitions and are in numerous prestigious major public museums and private collections all over the world.