First Exhibition of Vintage Shanghai Posters in North America
By Wylie Wong, CCC Gallery Guest Curator
The Chinese Culture Center is pleased to present the first exhibition of vintage Shanghai posters in North America. These relics of Shanghai’s Western influenced glamour period enjoyed great popularity, which can be directly related to the birth of capitalism and early industrialism in China. Rapid development of the Chinese economy during the early decades of the 20th century made this period the golden age of Chinese poster art. The beautiful ladies depicted in rich and vibrant imaging, corresponded to the nascent middle class aspirations of an increasingly Westernized China’s urban citizens.
Shanghai was China’s first great modern city. Known as the “Paris of the East” in the early 20th century, Shanghai quickly became the center of China’s banking and commercial enterprises, the country’s greatest commercial port. The movie industry was also centered there, as were all the great artists and intellectuals, and in addition, the early advertising and graphic studios.
Foreign merchants turned to native artists to produce the paintings for their advertisements. As physical beauty has always commanded attention, in the design of the posters the advertised commodities became secondary to the beautiful lady represented. The actual commodities were often inconspicuously placed on the side or outside image frame.
Vintage Shanghai Posters or Meinu Yuefenpai in Mandarin Chinese, can be divided into two categories: Classical Beauties Posters, often representing the Four Beauties of Ancient China, and Fashionable Ladies Posters, depicting modern ladies of the Republican Era. The ladies depicted include the renowned Beijing Opera actor Mei Lanfang, and famous Chinese actresses such as Ruan Lingyu and Butterfly Wu. Most of the beautiful ladies depicted in posters, however, were fictitious. Poster artists combined idealized female features to reproduce a type of perceived physical perfection.
Intended to be calendars and displayed commercially in shops, the posters transcended their utilitarian commercial use and were displayed as works of art in homes. Combining Western realistic rendering techniques and Chinese traditional subject matter, new aspects of hybrid realism were achieved and disseminated to a receptive populist audience.
This exhibition of vintage Shanghai Meinu Yuefenpai posters is drawn entirely from local private collections. Millions of copies of advertising posters were printed in China between 1900 and 1940. War, natural disaster, heat and insects destroyed most of them. Today, these old posters are rare and highly valued by art collectors. The CCC is pleased to present this sexy glimpse into early 20th century Chinese urban life, on display January 30th to June 5th 2004, in the CCC main gallery.