Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 28, 2012

A new China through new media at Dennos


TRAVERSE CITY — Another Chinese revolution is under way — only this one involves art instead of social rebellion or political conflict.

"The art world in China has gone through a major revolution in the media and subject matter presented by emerging artists," said Dennos Museum Center Director Gene Jenneman, who made several forays to China in recent years. "It's fascinating to see how artists there are combining their experience with Western art and bringing their own interpretation to it and at the same time exploring new media and different expressions."

Local audiences can get a look at what's happening on the Chinese art front when the Dennos presents its first major solo exhibition by one of Beijing's most influential contemporary artists, along with a concert by one of the capital city's most popular contemporary performing groups.

The exhibition of new media works by artist Miao Xiaochun will open Saturday at 7 p.m., followed by a concert of Mongolian folk-rock music by Hanggai at 8 p.m.

Xiaochun, 48, is at the forefront of new media. He has exhibited his photographic and 3D animation works in Australia, New Zealand and Europe, most notably at The Museum of Modern Art in New York and Venice Biennale, the most prestigious contemporary visual arts show in the world. He is a graduate of the Kunsthochschule Kassel about 200 miles west of Berlin and a professor of photography and digital media at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing.

"When he applied for art school in China he was turned down because he was considered too much of a dreamer," said Jenneman, who visited the artist's Beijing studio in 2011. "So he goes off to Germany and that's where he was exposed to Western art and museums."

Xiaochun's most recent work involves taking Renaissance paintings by artists like Hieronymus Bosch (The Garden of Earthly Delights) and Michelangelo (Last Judgement), developing them into computer models and reinterpreting them in different ways — using himself as a stand-in for the original figures in the paintings and using computer animation as a means of artistic expression.

Jenneman said he first saw digital video projections of Xiaochun's works in 2010 at the contemporary Today Art Museum in Beijing and was struck by their size and creative scope.

"They were really quite stunning and very different than other things I was seeing. One of my interests, in bringing exhibitions here, is how computers and digitization are changing expression. It sort of brought that statement of a Chinese artist breaking out of a traditional Chinese art and imagery and using new media to make those statements as an artist," Jenneman said. "If you're a computer gaming person, a kid, you're going to be looking at his work differently because a lot of it looks like it could have come out of a computer game. And if you're a highbrow intellectual type you're going to be trying to figure out what he's saying."

The Dennos exhibition will consist of digital video projections of four of Xiaochun's works. The largest will use three projectors and is expected to be 40 feet wide.

The exhibition will run through Feb. 9. Xiaochun will be in residence at the museum Nov. 10-14, where he'll give a public lecture and present programs for schools, in collaboration with the Confucius Institute at the University of Michigan.

Exhibition opener Hanggai is a group of musicians who left the punk rock clubs of Beijing to re-discover their roots in Inner Mongolia. Now they perform Mongolian folk music with traditional and western instruments combined with raspy deep throat singing and a loosely rock-based structure.

"The music is very accessible," said Jenneman, who saw the group at a festival of indigenous music in Toronto. "If you're frayed by (the twangy sound) of traditional Chinese music, this is nothing like that. This is more like Celtic drinking-song music. In fact, one of their big hits in China is their drinking song."

Tickets are $25 in advance at or (231) 995-1553, and $28 at the door.