Bard News & Events

Press Release

Bard Presents Exhibition of Chinese Contemporary Christian Art, September 1–30

Reception for In God We Trust to Be Held on September 1

Eleanor Davis
ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.—Bard College will host the exhibition In God We Trust: Contemporary Chinese Christian Art, curated by Patricia Karetzky, Oskar Munsterberg Lecturer in Art History at Bard College, and Daozi Wang Min, professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing. The show will be on display from September 1 to September 30 in Woods Studio, Bard College. An opening reception will be held on Thursday, September 1, from 5 to 7 p.m., and Patricia Karetzky will give a lecture at 6 p.m. The reception, lecture, and exhibition are free and open to the public.

In God We Trust: Contemporary Chinese Christian Art explores the theme of Christianity in Chinese art today. The Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966–76) did what centuries of civil war, foreign invasion, and periods of chaos and uncertainty could not. Overnight Chinese religions were extirpated. In the aftermath, faith in Mao was dissipated, though the inland population, as opposed to that of the coastal cities, still venerates him. Since the 1980s, in the rush to modernization and capitalism, many social programs that provided healthcare, housing, food, and unemployment insurance were abandoned. Large segments of the urban population of China have been left to their own resources. Those in the countryside still struggle for subsistence. Bereft of the comforts of the cult of Mao, many Chinese, feeling increasingly vulnerable and fragile, are turning to religion. While the government has allowed the reestablishment of several religious institutions, including Catholic and Protestant orders, In God We Trust: Contemporary Chinese Christian Art presents the kind of Christian art not sanctioned by the government.

Renowned artists Miao Xiaochun and Cui Xiuwen and artists like Gao Yuan and Longbin Chen appropriate the great masterpieces of Western art by Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, and others, which form the basis of art education in China, and interpret them in unique ways to infuse their art with spiritual meaning. The Gao Brothers (Gao Chen and Gao Qian) appropriate Christian themes as a form of social protest, contesting the restrictive policies of the government. Though these artists are not necessarily religious practitioners, their use of Christian themes is particularly significant in today’s society. A second group of artists, like Li Qiang, explore the grassroots movement of Christianity in China, documenting in their works the humble life of rural practitioners and believers; other artists like Cao Yuanming, Daozi, Gao Ge, Yu Benping, Wu Yingde, and Zhu Jiuyang use art as an expression of their own faith.


Miao Xiaochun was born in 1964 in Wu Xi, Jiangsu Province, and began as a photographer. He now lives and works in Beijing. Recently he has taken up the exploration of certain Christian masterpieces as a focus for his art. In 2006, he created a three-dimensional, monochromatic computer rendition of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment from the Sistine Chapel. In a complicated technique that draws on photography, painting, and computer manipulation, Miao’s more recent works appropriate the imagery of the mysterious Dutch Renaissance painter Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych Garden of Earthly Delights, which dates to 1503.

Cui Xiuwen was born in the 1970s in Harbin and now lives in Beijing. One of her early works recreated the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. Like Miao, she also used the computer to substitute an alter ego for the original figures in the composition, but in this case the image is that of a young girl in her school uniform. The young model, it becomes clear in later works, is an alter ego for Cui. In another series entitled Angel, the subject is yet again older. At first look, this series seems to be an expression of a feminist concern for the situation of woman in China, who are now devaluated, left to survive on their own limited means. But Cui universalizes the image and suggests her fate to be that of mankind.

Gao Yuan, a photographer, was born in the 1970s in Tejing and trained in Taiwan and Japan. She now lives part time in Beijing and part time in New York. Gao has a range of subjects, including tattooed bodies and calligraphic graffiti. Most recently, she has created a series of 12 images of mothers holding their children inscribed within a circular composition. Reflecting the great tradition of Madonna painting on roundels since the Renaissance, these works are far more complex than a mere recreation of the holy mother and child. As Gao explains, the symbolism incorporates traditional Chinese values as well: This is a story about 12 mothers, their 12 children, and the 12 animals of Chinese astrology.

Li Qiang was born in 1966 in Jiangsu, a small town outside of Nanjing. He now lives and works in Beijing. After graduation from Jiangsu Education Academy, he returned to his village wanting to be part of the rural existence he missed while in school. There he taught and worked documenting the pious faith of the village elders, who, left alone after the flight of the younger generation to the city, turned to religion in the 1980s when Western proselytizers came to the countryside. One day Li Qiang realized that the villagers, though illiterate, seemed to be reading the bibles given to them by the missionaries. His 2004 project The Sound Disappeared was the result of this observation. In these works Li combines the local belief system and its recent overlay of Christianity.

Cao Yuanming, a painter and photographer, was born in 1974 in Suzhou and is currently teaching at Shanghai University.  Cao is a Christian convert and the gatekeeper at his local church in Shanghai. Moved by the humble circumstances of his church and the devoutness of its adherents, he photographed pictures of churches bereft of believers. In modernist fashion he arranged the small images into a geometrical grid composition for a large-scale c-print. In his own words, Cao explains how he has been investigating the unofficial form of Christianity, not represented by the state-supported churches, but local houses made into places of worship.

Daozi was born in the 1950s and is a well-known art critic, professor, and writer, who, during the upheaval of the Tiananmen incident, found Christianity. He calls it the new Christianity to distinguish it from its more institutional forms. Daozi is the cocurator and a participant in this show. Recently, Daozi’s faith has become more insistent, and he turned to painting as a form of meditation, which soon became a form of prayer. Using traditional Chinese ink painting media, he created uninhibited compositions that seem largely abstract, but are infused with such Christian images as angels and crucifixes. Revitalizing the traditional Chinese ink technique of broad brushwork in a wash medium on rice paper was an important choice for Daozi, who is keenly aware of the secondary role this medium has taken since the introduction and subsequent domination of Western oils and acrylics on canvas. Daozi calls his work Saintism. Large scale and freely executed in long prayer sessions, the paintings evoke in a semiabstract manner the traditional imagery of Christian art. They resemble the spontaneous work of the Song dynasty Zen masters in their immediacy and evocative technique of free brushwork. In this way Daozi has combined the spiritual works of the past, using the technique and medium of Zen ink painting with Christian iconography.  

back to top

This event was last updated on 09-08-2011