A Window Suddenly Opens: Contemporary Photography in China

Landscape painted on a bare mans body

A Window Suddenly Opens: Contemporary Photography in China is the Hirshhorn’s first survey of photography by leading multigenerational Chinese artists made over the past three decades. The exhibition showcases 186 artworks made between 1993 and 2022, of which 141 are a landmark promised gift to the Hirshhorn from pioneering collector of Chinese art Larry Warsh. The exhibition’s title is drawn from a 1997 publication, a near manifesto, by Rong Rong and Liu Zheng that celebrated the possibilities in shifting the practice of photography away from realism toward a conceptual art practice.

A Window Suddenly Opens chronicles how, over three decades, emerging Chinese artists independently embraced the immediacy of print and digital photography and recorded performance and video art during an unprecedented cultural shift away from the priority of the collective to a revived focus on the self. Among the roster of 25 participating artists to engage with this trend are Cang Xin, Cao Fei, Lin Tianmiao, LuYang and Song Dong. Artists such as Hong Hao, Huang Yan, Qiu Zhijie, Sheng Qi and Zhang Dali questioned individualism in a rapidly mechanizing environment, responding in and to the moment with candor. 

Featured artists include Cang Xin, Cao Fei, Chen Shaoxiong, Cui Xiuwen, Gu Dexin, Hai Bo, Hong Hao, Hong Lei, Huang Yan, Lin Tianmiao, LuYang, Ma Liuming, Qiu Zhijie, Rong Rong, Sheng Qi, Song Dong, Song Yongping, Wang Jinsong, Wang Qingsong, Weng Fen, Xing Danwen, Zhang Dali, Zhang Huan, Zhang Peili and Zhuang Hui. 

A catalogue copublished by Yale University Press includes contributions by Hirshhorn Director Melissa Chiu and Assistant Curator Betsy Johnson, Claire Roberts, Orville Schell, Karen Smith and Taliesin Thomas, as well as original texts by 18 of the artists in the exhibition.

Follow along @hirshhorn on InstagramFacebook, or Twitterand sign up for our email newsletter for special announcements and  the latest on public programs.

Click here for the Accessibility Brochure

Printed copies and a braille version are available at the museum.



Exhibition catalogue

The past thirty years were dynamic, transformative decades in Chinese photography. Artists exposed to recent work from around the globe experimented with photography in newly conceptual and expressive ways, and their art from this period offers a portrait of a country at a moment of rapid urbanization, globalization, and cultural foment. A Window Suddenly Opens reveals the key role that photography has played in questioning and refashioning the aesthetic and social status quo of modern Chinese society in recent decades.

Alongside prescient works by Cao Fei, Lin Tianmiao, Rong Rong, Song Dong, Wang Qingsong, Zhang Huan, Zhang Peili, and many other artists, essays and interviews by scholars and curators Melissa Chiu, Betsy Johnson, Claire Roberts, Orville Schell, Karen Smith, and Taliesin Thomas explore the history of experimental photography in China and the artistic transformations of the digital age. The book also features texts written between 1994 and 2014 by Chinese artists, some published for the first time here in English, which offer essential insights into the artists’ ideas and experiences as they forged new creative paths.  Available to purchase August 29.

Published by Yale University Press in association with the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.