Displacement: The Three Gorges Dam and Contemporary Chinese Art

October 2, 2008 – January 25, 2009


The Three Gorges Dam on the Yangzi River in China is a massive project entwined in controversy. When finally completed, it will stand as the world’s largest generator of hydro-electric power, with a yearly output equal to that of fifty million tons of coal or fifteen nuclear power plants. However, the dam’s 375-mile reservoir has already displaced over one million people and submerged over one thousand towns and villages.

This exhibition presents work that four leading contemporary Chinese artists—Chen Qiulin, Yun-Fei Ji, Liu Xiaodong, and Zhuang Hui—have created in response to the Three Gorges Dam. Despite differences in backgrounds and artistic practices, these artists have engaged with the theme of displacement, responding to the movement of people, the demolition of old towns and construction of new cities, and the astonishing changes the project is bringing to the local landscape. The powerful works on view represent four major branches of contemporary Chinese art: ink painting, realist oil painting, conceptual photography, and performance and new media art. Moving beyond any single medium or trend, Displacement offers nuanced, thought-provoking perspectives on a project of great social, environmental, and global concern.

Exhibition Tour: Salt Lake Art Center, Salt Lake City, Utah, November 21, 2009 – February 28, 2010; Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, March 25 – July 18, 2010.

Curator: Wu Hung, Smart Museum Consulting Curator, Harrie A. Vanderstappen Distinguished Service Professor of Art History, and Director of the Center for the Art of East Asia, University of Chicago, in consultation with Jessica Moss, Smart Museum Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art, and Stephanie Smith, Smart Museum Director of Collections and Exhibitions and Curator of Contemporary Art.

This exhibition and related programs have been supported by Dan Bo, the Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation, and the Women's Board of the University of Chicago. The accompanying publication was made possible by a generous gift from Fred Eychaner and Tommy Yang Guo.

Presented in the Richard and Mary L. Gray Gallery for Special Exhibitions.

Top: Installation view of Chen Qiulin's Rhapsody on Farewell (2002), River, River (2005), Color Lines (2006), and Garden (2007). Photo by Tom Van Eynde.
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