“What’s wrong, I think, is the position of the dragon.”
Wang Chuan was gesturing at one of his own photographs, an image of a bright golden statuette of a dragon — a potent image in Chinese culture, a symbol of the nation itself — presiding over a collection of grimy soup pots.
“This is a stew,” he said, meaning the contents of those pots. “This is in a popular restaurant in a suburb of Beijing. It’s run by the farmers who don’t do farm work anymore. This is the wrong place.”
Wang’s dragon photos, part of “Future Returns,” an exhibition of Chinese contemporary art that opened last month at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, are on their face an exploration of the hapless fate of a cultural icon.
In one image, a long costume used in the traditional dragon dance sits crumpled on the back of a three wheeler. Another shows coins tossed for luck onto the image of a dragon at a temple, all of the smallest denominations.
But, in a broader sense, they are a mediation on the erasure of tradition in a fast-changing country.
“Gradually, people begin to care if the tradition is too quick to be erased by the modernization and the development of the economy and the incoming of the culture from the Western world,” Wang said. “The pace of vanishing of all the old things is shocking.”
The exhibition, which includes the work of more than two dozen artists, is the first brought to the museum by Wang Chunchen, a respected art critic and head of the Department of Curatorial Research at the CAFA Art Museum at the Central Academy of Fine Arts China in Beijing who is also an adjunct curator for the Broad.
“China is changed greatly in the past three decades,” Wang said, as he took a group of journalists, artists and translators through the exhibition last month. “So the art I selected her represents, stands for that kind of change, culturally, socially, psychologically.” . . . .