Tags for: Refocusing Photography: China at the Millennium
  • Special Exhibition

Refocusing Photography: China at the Millennium

Sunday, June 8–Sunday, November 16, 2025
Location:  230 Photography
Mark Schwartz and Bettina Katz Photography Galleries
Free; no ticket required

About The Exhibition

From 1949 to 1978, photography in the People’s Republic of China was reserved for governmental propaganda: its function was to present an idealized image of life under Chairman Mao and communist rule. In 1978, as China opened to global trade and Western societies, photography as documentation, art, and personal expression experienced a sudden awakening. Personal photographic societies formed, art schools began teaching photography, and information on Western contemporary art became available.  

In the late 1990s, a new generation of Chinese artists, many initially trained as painters, revolted against traditional academic definitions of photography. Building on the work done in the previous decades by Western artists, they dissolved the boundaries between photography, performance art, conceptual art, and installation. In so doing, they brought photography into the foreground in Chinese contemporary art. This exhibition presents works from the museum’s collection by eight key artists from that generation. 

Born between 1962 and 1969, these artists grew up during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), when conformity was required and past intellectual and artistic products—whether artistic, family history, or documentary—were banned and destroyed. They also experienced the cultural vacuum that followed this erasure. As adults, these artists lived in a radically different China—newly prosperous, individualistic, and consumerist. They helped develop a new visual idiom, producing artworks that addressed their country’s recent history, its swift societal transformation, and their own resultant shift in identity as Chinese.


This exhibition is made possible by the Seven Five Fund.

All exhibitions at the Cleveland Museum of Art are underwritten by the CMA Fund for Exhibitions. Principal annual support is provided by Michael Frank and the late Pat Snyder, the Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation, the John and Jeanette Walton Exhibition Fund, and Margaret and Loyal Wilson. Generous annual support is provided by two anonymous supporters, Gini and Randy Barbato, the late Dick Blum and Harriet Warm, Gary and Katy Brahler, Cynthia and Dale Brogan, Dr. Ben and Julia Brouhard, Brenda and Marshall Brown, Joseph and Susan Corsaro, Richard and Dian Disantis, the Jeffery Wallace Ellis Trust in memory of Lloyd H. Ellis Jr., Leigh and Andy Fabens, the Frankino-Dodero Family Fund for Exhibitions Endowment, Florence Kahane Goodman, Janice Hammond and Edward Hemmelgarn, Robin Heiser, the late Marta and the late Donald M. Jack Jr., Eva and Rudolf Linnebach, William S. and Margaret F. Lipscomb, Bill and Joyce Litzler, the Roy Minoff Family Fund, Lu Anne and the late Carl Morrison, Jeffrey Mostade and Eric Nilson and Varun Shetty, Tim O’Brien and Breck Platner, William J. and Katherine T. O’Neill, Michael and Cindy Resch, William Roj and Mary Lynn Durham, Betty T. and David M. Schneider, Paula and Eugene Stevens, the Womens Council of the Cleveland Museum of Art, and Claudia Woods and David Osage.