In 1955, the photographer Edward Steichen organized the now legendary photo exhibition on “The Family of Man” in New York’s Museum of Modern Art – it was meant to paint a comprehensive picture of humanity. In 2006, the exhibition “Humanism in China – A Contemporary Record of Photography” creates a different, far more specific pictorial panorama: Drawing on 590 documentary shots taken by Chinese photographers over the last 50 years, it presents people in China against the background of social modernization. Organized by the Guangdong Museum of Art, Guangzhou, the exhibition addresses four major topics: Existence, Relationship, Desire and Time.
Behind the outer glossy sheen of the economic boom in China’s metropolises, Chinese photographers seek to identify the inner side to such cultural upheaval, something that in terms of its temporal compression hardly seems tangible as regards a single person’s biography. The exhibition “Humanism in China – A Contemporary Record of Photography” describes everyday life in the cities and in the country. Images that deliberately refrain from distorting or staging events document the immense social changes of the last 50 years. Precisely because it was not some foreign eye behind the camera, as these photographs instead express the perception of the world by a generation that grew up in China, this exhibition is more than a photographic show – it is truly a document of the times.
The show is now going on display outside China for the very first time since it went on show in the Guangdong Museum of Art in 2003 and in the Shanghai Art Museum in 2004. In a quite unique form of cooperation, five German museum institutions have joined forces to make this possible: Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen in Munich, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, and Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt. After the opening in the MMK in Frankfurt, the twin city of Guangzhou, the show will then travel on to the other cities - it will thus be on show for a period of two years.
As a museum for contemporary art we can investigate the documentary and artistic nature of photography, explore the fundamental issue of “What can images achieve?” and can and shall repeatedly intervene in current social debate. Steichen’s wish back then was to create an exhibition that, through the medium and language of photography, fostered understanding between people, different peoples and different cultures. This idea, and it is so compellingly topical, is being taken up today with the presentation of “Humanism in China – A Contemporary Record of Photography” in Germany in the MMK.