The Fullerton Museum Center held an opening reception for the new exhibit “China Modern: Designing 20th Century Popular Culture,” focusing on advertising’s impact on Chinese culture.
With more than 170 objects on display, the exhibit ties in capitalism and communism to modern-day living. Although the ideologies differ, the exhibit shows how the means of instilling these values were continually similar.
Yadira J. Luviano, a frequent visitor of the Los Angeles Art Walk, said that because the two ideologies are complete opposites in definition, it makes sense to put the two together.
“It’s like a painting of black and white,” said Luviano. “Opposites attract, and together (they) can prove a point or explain a (more in-depth theme). Perhaps that’s why these two ideologies are the topic of many works of art.”
There is both continuity and contrast in the graphic art from both capitalist and communist periods in China’s history, said Fullerton Museum educator Aimee Aul.
“Western-inspired fashion and consumer products drew on traditional Chinese attitudes and ideals of beauty — pretty girls feature prominently in Shanghai cigarette cards as well as Maoist propaganda posters,” Aul said. “The ancient Chinese tradition of hanging ancestral portraits in the home worked out very well for Mao, whose official portrait was required to be displayed in every Chinese home. And, of course, the color red. It was a fortuitous thing for the Communists that red was already the color of good luck, prosperity and celebration.”
Mao Zedong was the founder of the People’s Republic of China. The death toll as a direct result of his policies is estimated in the tens of millions.
“You can’t reverse a tragedy like that,” said Steven Yee, whose family is from Hainan, China. “It takes years upon years to change a government or an economic view of a country.”
Yee said he agrees with the theme of capitalism and communism correlating in the Chinese culture under the reign of Mao Zedong.
“In this exhibit, we see Mao’s image used in propaganda of his time, as well as contemporary appropriations of that imagery by Western artists,” Aul said.
The exhibit has four main sections.
“Graphic Tradition: Popular Design from Late Qing to Early Republic” features art from the turn of the 20th century as well as family photographs to give viewers an idea of what everyday art people in China from 1900 to 1920 would see.
“Cosmopolitan Capitalism: Shanghai under the Republic,” focuses on the international scene in Shanghai in the 1930s.
Meanwhile, “A Revolution in Culture Designing the People’s Republic” concentrates on propaganda pieces from the Cultural Revolution and beyond.
The last section, “The Aesthetics of Nostalgia,” demonstrates art and design from the 1990s to the present appropriating and reinterpreting Maoist imagery, Aul said.
The displays include lychee and cigarette boxes, children’s toys, an extensive collection of product labels and advertisements, and communist propaganda from the rule of Zedong.
According to the Fullerton’s Feature Exhibit website, curator Kalim Winata believes that “these everyday materials (conventional objects) have been the small steps by which great cultural shifts are made.”
This is the first exhibition to track graphic art and product design from the Qing Dynasty through the 20th century, while also reflecting on the impact art advertising has had on the contemporary experience.
“Art in any form expands your train of thought,” Luviano said. “It makes you wonder about the piece, curiosity kicks in, and in that process you end up learning new things. I think the exhibition will let its viewers learn more than expected.”
Luviano said that by viewing art, a connection can be made to current events, a social issue or political themes.
“People should come to the exhibit to experience the everyday art of the world’s most populous country during its most tumultuous century,” Aul said. “Seeing things like tea tins, household art, cigarette boxes and clothing can sometimes teach you more than a whole shelf full of history books.”
“China Modern” opened Saturday and will be on display until July 1.
Museum admission is $4 for adults, $3 for students with student identification and senior citizens 65 and older, $1 for children 6 to 12 years of age, and free for children 5 or younger and members of the Fullerton Museum Center. On the first Thursday of each month, admission is $2 for all visitors from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
The museum is located at 301 N. Pomona Ave. Normal business hours are noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Wednesday, and Friday through Sunday. On Thursday, the museum is open from noon to 8 p.m.
The exhibit was established by the Pasadena-based Pacific Asia Museum, and the tour was prepared by International Arts & Artists based in Washington, D.C.
For further information, contact the Fullerton Museum Center at 714-738-6545.