For his first exhibition at Pace since winter 2010, Zhang Huan premieres new oil paintings based on Buddhist masks and iconography inspired by extensive travel in Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan and India. Densely layered, these all-over paintings reference the history of China from ancient Buddhist dance masks to the hallucinatory imagery of opium smokers and the cultural revolution.
Zhang Huan (b. 1965, China) is one of the most vital, influential and provocative contemporary artists working today. The layers of ideas the artist explored in his early performance art, conceived of as existential explorations and social commentaries, have carried through to the more traditional studio practice he embraced upon moving to Shanghai in 2005, after living and working for eight years in New York City.
534 West 25th Street, New York
September 20 – October 26, 2013
Opening reception: Thursday, September 19, 6 to 8 PM
Pace presents Zhang Huan: Poppy Fields, the artist’s first solo exhibition in New York since 2010. Poppy Fields features 14 never-before-seen paintings made from 2011 to 2013 that have occupied the artist’s practice for 3 years. The exhibition will be on view at 534 West 25th Street from September 20 through October 26, with an opening reception for the public on Thursday, September 19, 6 to 8 PM. A catalogue with an essay by curator Kathryn Selig Brown accompanies the exhibition and includes photographs taken by the artist during his time in Tibet.
Poppy Fields features a series of vividly colored, oil on linen paintings that are uniquely intimate in scale and nature compared to the artist’s iconic large-scale Ash paintings and monumental sculptures. Zhang Huan employs a thick impasto technique and all-over style that engulfs the surface of each Poppy Field painting.
Observed at a distance, each work presents a mesmerizing field of candy-colored pink, teal, lilac and sand, which appears to pulsate with energy. Only upon closer inspection does each burst of color transform from the abstract into figurative. Tiny faces with round eyes and wild Cheshire grins become evident in close view, a reference to ancient Tibetan dance masks.
Skulls are a recurring image in Zhang Huan’s work and stem from the artist’s early explorations in performance, inspired by the body and human form. In 2007, the artist completed his Skull series, large-scale paintings made of incense ash collected from sites of Buddhist ritual and ceremony. Many paintings were titled Renaissance in reference to Buddhist philosophies of rebirth rather than the finality of death.
In her essay, The Art of Impermanence: Zhang Huan and Tibetan Skulls, Kathryn Selig Brown points to Tibetan skulls as a “spiritual antidote of passion and vice,” used as ritual vessels and worn in crowns and garlands by tantric deities to defeat the power of the ego. Poppy Fields, the title of this new series, evokes the hallucinatory power of the poppy seed and its damaging effects.
Poppy Fields dramatically differ in palette, content and material from the artist’s well-known Ash series, yet Zhang Huan expresses a similar message about both series. In the artist’s own words, these paintings, “invite a new examination of our collective awareness and experience,” and express, “the birth, senility, illness, and death of humanity.” They are a plea to reexamine and reverse lost values.
Zhang Huan (b. 1965, China) is one of the most vital, influential, and provocative contemporary artists working today. The layers of ideas the artist explored in his early performance art, conceived of as existential explorations and social commentaries, have carried through to the more traditional studio practice he embraced upon returning to China, after having lived and worked in New York City for eight years.
Zhang Huan attended Henan University, Kaifeng (1984-88) and received an MA from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing in 1993. Zhang Huan gained international recognition for performance pieces such as 12 Square Meters (1994) and To Add One Meter to an Anonymous Mountain (1995) that he developed while living in the artistic community known as the “Beijing East Village.” In 1998, the artist was included in Inside Out: New Chinese Art, organized by Asia Society and P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center. During this exhibition he relocated to New York City, and over the course of the following eight years, created 13 performances and exhibited in five solo shows and more than 60 group exhibitions throughout the United States. The artist moved to Shanghai in 2006, where he opened the Zhang Huan Studio and established a Foundation.
Most recently Zhang Huan has been the subject of major solo exhibitions worldwide including this year’s Zhang Huan: Soul and Matter, Forte di Belvedere and Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, July 8–October 13, 2013 and Looking East, Facing West: The World of Zhang Huan, Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids, Michigan, May 24–August 25, 2013. Zhang Huan has also completed numerous public commissions worldwide. In 2010, Zhang Huan installed Three Heads, Six Arms, a 15-ton, two-story tall sculpture, considered the artist's largest to date, in the plaza in front of City Hall in San Francisco. Zhang Huan directed and designed the set for George Frideric Händel’s Semele, Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie de Munt, Brussels in 2009, which traveled to the Poly Theatre, Beijing in October 2010. Notable exhibitions and installations include: Zhang Huan: Altered States (2007-08) at the Asia Society, New York; Zhang Huan: Three-Legged Buddha, Royal Academy of Arts, Annenberg Courtyard, London (2007-8); Zhang Huan: Dawn of Time at Shanghai Art Museum (2010); and Zhang Huan: Hope Tunnel, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing (2010), among others. In 2009, the artist was the subject of a comprehensive monograph published by Phaidon Press as part of their “Contemporary Artists” series. Yilmaz Dziewior, director of the Kunstverein in Hamburg, and Robert Storr, Dean of the Yale School of Art, contributed essays, and an in-depth interview with the artist was conducted by curator and critic RoseLee Goldberg.
Zhang Huan’s work is part of nearly 50 public collections worldwide, including Center of Contemporary Art, Malaga, Spain; Centre national d’art et de culture Georges Pompidou, Paris; Denver Art Museum; The Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; The Israel Museum, Jerusalem; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Barcelona; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Australia; Philadelphia Museum of Art; S.M.A.K., The Municipal Museum of Contemporary Art Gent, Belgium; Saatchi Collection, London; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Storm King Art Center, New York; and Yale University Art Gallery, Connecticut, among others. Zhang Huan lives and works in Shanghai, China.
Copyright and Credit Information: Photography courtesy Pace Gallery, © Zhang Huan studio
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Katheryn H. Selig Brown
2013. Pace Gallery. Hardback
60 pages: 29 color illustrations; 9 x 11 ⅞ inches