Tseng Illuminates At Tufts
by Franklin W. Liu
The beauty of viewing a retrospective collection of artworks is that it reveals the artist’s unique, life-long
personal view of the world; when that body of work transcends the status quo, it often modifies our own perception spanning that same passage of time. Tseng
Kwong-Chi was such an artist.
Tseng Kwong-Chi (1950-1990) vibrantly lived a brief 39 years. Unhampered by conventional societal standards,
he lived what must have been an enviable, charmed life — keeping the company of celebrated cultural icons like Andy Warhol and Madonna — while his contemporaries
Cindy Sherman, Julian Schnabel and Jeff Koons were the influential artists of the day, all making waves in the rocking 1980s, shaping Tseng’s thinking.
Tseng’s “deconceptual” photography-art was staged: it pushed back against the viewer’s preconceived notion of what is commonly accepted as societal norm; his deconceptual images were pointedly wry while sapid.
Satirizing political and societal issues, his work took him traveling to distant locations of international landmarks and scenic wonders around the world — places like in front of the famous Eiffel Tower where he posed like a tourist on vacation with a twist, sporting an inexplicably joyless and dead-pan expression, wearing a Chinese Zhongshan suit, popularly known as the “Mao suit.”
His donning of the “Mao suit,” in sharp contrast to western fashion and style, was purposefully symbolic in intent, as the garment’s four pockets convey the four virtues of China: “Politeness, Justice, Honesty and an Awareness of Shame.” And, the three cuff buttons convey China’s first provisional president, Sun Yat-sen’s (1866-1925) three principles: “Nationalism, Democracy and People’s Livelihood.”