The Cleveland Museum of Art

Collection Online as of July 12, 2024

New Primordial Chaos

New Primordial Chaos

(American, b. 1969)
Image: 29.7 x 86.2 cm (11 11/16 x 33 15/16 in.); Overall: 31.6 x 337.2 cm (12 7/16 x 132 3/4 in.)
Location: not on view

Did You Know?

On the day Cherney took the photograph, Beijing’s Air Quality Index was 517 (150 is unhealthy).


Michael Cherney has a "painterly" style of landscape photography much inspired by the aesthetics of Chinese painting. Here, he superimposed a photograph of the sun onto the composition of Hunlun tu by Zhu Derun (1294–1365), a famous 14th-century Chinese painting variously translated as "Primordial Chaos" or the "Cosmic Circle." Zhu Derun depicted a circle to convey the Daoist cosmological idea of primordial chaos—the great undifferentiated matter out of which heaven and earth and all forms emerged.

Cherney's New Primordial Chaos revisits the chaos after creation, a human-generated chaos that is so overwhelming and toxic that it can cloud the sun, making it look like not itself but the moon. Polluted air and clouds shroud the sun on a Beijing day. The resulting image, which resembles the moon shining in the night sky, is the artist's deliberate attempt to create confusion and subtle critique of the contemporary environmental crisis.
  • 2014–2015
    Collection of the artist
    (Kaikodo America Inc., New York, NY, sold to the Cleveland Museum of Art)
    The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH
  • "Elegant Solutions." Kaikodo Journal XXXI (Spring 2015) Reproduced: cat. no. 60, pp. 132-133, 213-214
    Von Spee, Clarissa. “Interview-Clarissa von Spee: Better understanding the close cross-cultural ties among Asian cultures.” Cleveland Art: Cleveland Museum of Art Members Magazine vol. 57, no. 1 (January/February 2017): 14-15. Reproduced and Mentioned: P. 14.
  • Chinese Landscape Duets of Arnold Chang and Michael Cherney. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH (organizer) (July 12, 2015-February 7, 2016).
  • {{cite web|title=New Primordial Chaos|url=false|author=Michael Cherney|year=2014|access-date=12 July 2024|publisher=Cleveland Museum of Art}}

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