1950 - 1990

Tseng Kwong Chi was born in Hong Kong on September 6, 1950. At 16, his parents relocated the family to Canada. Interested in art, he originally studied painting, but switched to photography a year later. After studying Fine Arts in Paris, he moved to New York City. In 1979, Tseng put on a thrift store Mao-era suit to enter a coat-and-tie restaurant in New York and was mistaken as a Chinese dignitary. From this experience Tseng realized he had discovered a theme to explore in his work. He began an examination of foreignness, stereotypes, and Western ignorance regarding China. The creative result was his most famous body of work: Expeditionary Self-Portrait Series (a.k.a. East Meets West). In over 100 images, Tseng poses in front of iconic settings such as The World Trade Center and Mount Rushmore as his fabricated persona, a Chinese “Ambiguous Ambassador” wearing the classic Mao suit and sunglasses. The collection was described as “a cross between Ansel Adams and Cindy Sherman.” He was also well known as a tireless documentarian of New York’s downtown art and club scene, creating a rich 1980s archive with tens of thousands of photos featuring Andy Warhol, Julian Schnabel, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kenny Scharf, Philip Taaffe, Madonna, Grace Jones, the B-52’s, among others. Tseng is especially known for the 40,000 photos he took documenting the career and work of graffiti artist Keith Haring, beginning with Haring's work as a subway artist. In 1984, the two men collaborated on the book, Art in Transit, which was a collection of Haring's subway drawings and Tseng's photographs. Tseng died of AIDS at age 39 in his Manhattan apartment on March 10, 1990. He was survived by his companion of seven years, Robert-Kristoffer Haynes. The stunning portfolio he amassed in his brief life secured Tseng Kwong Chi’s position as one of the finest photographers of the era. Since his passing, his work has been shown in international exhibitions and numerous museums.

Demography

Gender Male

Sexual Orientation Gay

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity Asian/Pacific Rim

Nations Affiliated Hong Kong SAR China Canada United States France

Field(s) of Contribution

Photography

Commemorations & Honors

Asian American Arts Centre Digital Archive Inclusion

Authorship

Original Biography Author
Owen Keehnen
Biography Edited By
Victor Salvo
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell