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Interview With Chinese Contemporary Artist Zhang Xiaogang: Recording the “Relics of Life”

Excerpts Of Chinese Art Blog Artron’s Interview With Zhang Xiaogang Shed Light On His New Exhibition, “The Records”

Zhang Xiaogang feels the art environment in Beijing is worlds away from that of New York

Zhang Xiaogang feels the art environment in Beijing is worlds away from that of New York

We recently profiled Chinese contemporary artist Zhang Xiaogang’s new exhibition in Beijing, which breaks dramatically from his earlier work by incorporating sculpture and mixed media pieces. Last week, China-based art site Artron (Ya Chang Art Network) sat down with Zhang to discuss the new direction his art is taking, and the ways that the rapidly-shifting Chinese culture affects his creative process as well as his views of the American and Chinese art worlds. 

Ya Chang Art Network: What’s the basic idea behind this new exhibition? 

Zhang Xiaogang: Actually, the idea is basically to “revise” a continuing exhibition. But this idea is one that I’ve paid pretty close attention to for several years, like I have with topics related to “memory.” The people’s lives are changing quickly, so now we’re facing our memory and our memory loss, which all results in a number of psychological reactions associated with these and other matters. So it seems that by creating pieces concerned with memory — since our lives are changing so fast, resulting in a constant loss of our memory and nostalgia, which begins at a very young age — it all comes back to how I was always concerned with the idea of memory, an idea that has concerned me even more in recent years. 

In the past a series regarding “memory and starting to remember,” then a series about “inside and outside”, later became “amendment” in my new works — the new works are a deeper continuation of the old works. I hope to continue this theme, to a relatively deep degree, to see if there are any other possibilities. This is the basic idea [of this exhibition].

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Exhibition Profile: Zhang Xiaogang’s “The Records”

One Of China’s Top Contemporary Artists Branches Out In Extraordinary New Beijing Exhibition

Zhang Xiaogang's newest exhibition shows an artist in transition

Zhang Xiaogang's newest exhibition shows a great artist in transition

Contemporary Chinese artist Zhang Xiaogang, long known for his ethereal family portraits, has moved into uncharted territory with his newest exhibition, “The Records,” running from September 27 to November 15 at Pace Beijing. The show, which showcases more sculpture and less painting, is a move in a completely new direction for Zhang. As he pulls away from the portrait painting which launched him into the international spotlight, does this show give us an indication that top Chinese contemporary artists are developing works for a more domestic audience?

One of the major shifts we’ve seen among major Chinese artists in the last year or two is a stronger effort to reach mainland Chinese viewers and less of a reliance on the “traditional” symbols and icons that initally drew the attention of Western collectors and art lovers. Zhang Xiaogang’s newest exhibition, which is less Cultural Revolution and more 21st century than his early ’90s output, definitely marks a new chapter in the artist’s work. Does this indicate that he’s finished with traditional canvas-and-oil work? Or is it  just an artistic master flexing some new muscles?

According to Pace Beijing, the show presents the artist’s newest works from 2008 and 2009, including prints on steel plates, sculptures and installations:

Since his earlier works, Zhang Xiaogang never ceased the traces left by history in one’s soul and memory. In this new works, Zhang through employing some unique materials join together “landscape”, “object”, “self”, and scars, collective icons, as well as journal entries, which all carried historical and memorial meanings. He uses new artistic forms to further deepen the subject of “history and contemporary”. In other new works, Zhang creatively combines thoughts and form, continuing the tradition of writing poems on paintings.

Several photos of the exhibition are posted on Chinese contemporary art forum Art Ba-Ba.