Beijing-based photographer Chen Man discusses her work at L.A. Louver
By Michael Aushenker
“Let’s have a picture together. Selfish!”
What photographer Chen Man meant to say was “selfie” as she turned her back on the audience to capture herself with the crowd using her smartphone.
The start of Beijing-based Chen’s Jan. 6 lecture at L.A. Louver, where her exhibit “East/West” runs through Jan. 31, was not your traditional kick-off to an artist’s talk. Then again, as the content of her art underscores, Chen’s photography rebels against the traditional.
Born in Mongolia in 1985 and raised in Beijing, Chen grew up in the single-child generation engendered by Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. After attending the prestigious Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, her fashion photography landed her images in style magazines Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle and Vision Magazine as well as in ad campaigns for Dolce & Gabbana, Coach, Adidas, Nike, Guess and other brands. Much of her commercial proficiency and polish embellishes her Photoshop-enhanced, fine arts photography, which has been exhibited worldwide but makes its first Los Angeles appearance at Venice’s L.A. Louver.
After an introduction by gallery founding director Peter Goulds, Chen (both through a translator and her own limited English) discussed some of the motives driving her work to a packed upstairs room as well as a video-fed overflow crowd downstairs.
“All reality are phantoms, all phantoms are real,” she said, explaining her photos’ juxtapositions between China’s youth and the stern conservative forces of previous generations; a collision of Old World culture and New World-inspired rampant materialism.
“We discovered that the material world cannot solve all [dissatisfaction],” she said, making reference also to her parents’ and grandparents’ generations. “They entrusted their dreams in us. We love to drive your cars, we love to drink your coffee, we love to carry your bags. We’re eager to create something as shiny as diamonds.”
In the end, though, it’s Chen’s powerful photography, often depicting beautiful young Asian women clad in contemporary red skirts against muted ancient China backdrops, that speaks
“East/West,” continues through Jan. 31. L.A. Louver, 45 N. Venice Blvd., Venice. Call (310) 822-4955 or visit lalouver.com.