Chinese performance, installation artist Zhang Huan's first show in Moscow – Moscow Times

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CHINESE ART SHOW RUSSIA

Zhang Huan Paintings and Sculptures to January 17 2009 Diehl and Gallery One

German gallery owner Volker Diehl has brought one of China’s leading artists to Moscow for his first personal exhibition. Zhang Huan who was recently signed by impresario dealer Jay Jopling of London’s White Cube has exhibited at major international museums including New York’s MOMA and Paris’ Pompidou Center.Even before the surge in interest in his work this decade, Zhang was difficult not to notice, reports the Moscow Times.

Physically demanding performance art

He first rose to notoriety in the early 1990s as part of the avant-garde Beijing East Village group, staging intensely physical performances that featured him sitting in a public toilet, covered in fish oil and honey, inviting flies to nestle on him.

Move from performance art to traditional media

Recently, however, he has turned towards the more traditional media of drawing, painting and sculpture that are exhibited here. “Performance art is very tiring. It makes me lose good ideas. So I stopped,” he said at his Asia Society exhibition in New York last year. “If I have good ideas, then I’ll return to performance art.”

Return to China and Chinese references

This change in approach also owes much to his return to China from New York in 2006, which saw Zhang re-embrace traditional Chinese motifs in his artwork. His approach to them, though, is new, distinctive and very striking, thanks less to drastic thematic reinterpretations than to his idiosyncratic use of material.

But as a whole, the effect they produce is distinctly Chinese. “I use ash to express and combine all the dreams, aspirations, all the spiritual longings, all the ideas that people have somehow infused into incense ash,” he wrote in an essay for Pace Wildenstein Gallery this year. “It’s the collective spirit and collective thinking and collective wishes of the people in China.”

New pieces from incense ash

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Many of his new pieces are made out of incense ash from Buddhist monasteries, which in form can bring famous Western artists to mind — the disfigured sculpture “Ash Head No. 16” is reminiscent of Alberto Giacometti; “Big Ash Painting” bears the influence of abstract expressionism; and “Military Training on the Sea No. 2” even hints at William Turner’s seascapes.

Zhang’s non-burnt new works attempt to reincarnate that same ancient Chinese mentality. The balcony hosts a series of folkloric woodcuts and drawings in ink and soy sauce, some themes from which are metamorphosed into physically striking art objects. Downstairs, a feathered resin donkey climbs a massive wooden log up the western wall, opposite an imposing likeness of the Buddha made out of a cow skin.

Moscow Times for more

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