When the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) published Selected Artworks from the CAFA Art Museum Collection: Modern and Contemporary Photography in 2018, it was significant not because it was China’s only museum with a photography collection catalogue or because photography was included as a modern artistic medium along with Chinese painting, oil painting, printmaking, and sculpture. More importantly, the volume was a conscious reflection on the current examination of photography in China and in art academies. As another collection-focused research project following Modern and Contemporary Photography, this exhibition deepens and solidifies the meaning of that volume, but it also offers an opportunity to observe more closely the resonances between photography and the academy in the twentieth century, and to highlight the founding of CAFA Art Museum’s Image Art Center this year.
SELECTED ARTWORKS FROM THE CAFA ART MUSEUM COLLECTION MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY PHOTOGRAPHY edited by Cai Meng, 2018
In CAFA’s history, the development and evolution of photography, as an embodiment of aesthetics and technology, have never been publicly discussed. However, we have seen that—in the present, as well as in the history of the Central Academy of Fine Arts since its founding—teachers, students, and alumni who are not active as photographers or photography critics have engaged with discoveries or ideas using the methods of photographic practice and criticism. They never stopped, and several became trailblazers in their time. This exhibition is concerned with briefly recalling these antecedents, while also looking to the future. This task cannot be completed in an exhibition, but we want to take this opportunity (and the ones that follow) to discuss a subject that is constantly being perfected: “The photography is not what’s important.”
Feng Mengbo, My Private Museum The Studio, 2012, 100x60cm, Three-dimensional PhotographyXu Bing, Where Does the Dust Itself Collect, 2014, 45×30cm, Giclee Print for CollectionTa Ke, A Tree with Flowers on the Ancient City Wall, 2010, 30.4×25.5cm, Platinum & Palladium Printing, Collection of CAFA Art Museum
When we say that “the photography is not what’s important,” it is not a denial or negation of photography. To the contrary, this statement hopes to inspire more people to take up the task, because photography is becoming increasingly important and widespread. As a result, we could say that ink painting is not what’s important, or design is not what’s important. We cannot easily say what is important, but we want to consider and interrogate the answer by stating what’s not important. Furthermore, photography did not come late to CAFA, but the fact that it has never had its own school or department may be related to the art academy’s grounding in the tradition of painting, and perhaps, students and teachers do not find photography to be in such unnavigable waters. Even if they do not need to participate in the art world as photographers and critics, their everyday practice may be closely connected to photography, or they may even have been recognized for using photography as a direct medium or method. As they say, “The seemingly useless is the most useful.” We have also noticed that a group of outstanding alumni from the Central Academy of Fine Arts have recently been recognized for their achievements in photography. If we consider all of this together, we have more than a growing picture of photography ; we actually have a view of contemporary art.
Liu Xiaodong, Migration, 2015Chen Man, Eosin, Twelve Colors of China No. 1, 2011, 80×53.33cm, C-Print, Collection of CAFA Art MuseumA Photo with Wang Chuan and His Tutor Siegfried Mannietta at the Degree Show, Gallery of CAFA at Wangfujing, 1999In 2011, CAFA Art Museum accepted the donation by Christopher Philips from ICP through The Asia Foundation.
“The photography is not what’s important” is not purely a backward-looking discussion; it also embodies a forward-looking hope. The exhibition’s sections are focused on what’s not important—the medium, the professionalism, the point of view, the exhibition, and the photography—as ways of explaining the development and predicaments of photography at the Central Academy of Fine Arts. We hope that this self-reflective attitude will inspire everyone who sees the show to think and converse beyond the exhibition’s walls.
Cai Meng, Cao Qinghui
August 29, 2021
About the exhibition
Dates: October 1-November 11, 2021
Venue: CAFA Art Museum
Courtesy CAFA Art Museum