Zhang Xiaogang

Zhang Xiaogang
b. 1958, Kunming, Yunnan
Oil painter
Zhang Xiaogang’s oeuvre constitutes one of the most significant contributions to the language of Chinese oil painting since the mid 1980s. After graduating from the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts in Chongqing in 1982 (see art academies), Zhang founded the Southwest Art Research Group (Xinan yishu qunti) together with artist Pen Dehai and Mao Xuhui. The conceptual research of these artists carried more surrealist and less political overtones than groups in Hong Kong and Beijing, exploring human desire in a period when the once-suppressed humanism was taking up new meanings and relevance. In Zhang’s early work Eternal Life (1988), depicting minority people surrounded by animals, emerges the concern for the purity of simple and rustic life as opposed to that of the ‘modern man’. In his two most famous series of paintings, Amnesia and Memory and Bloodline: The Big Family (both begun in 1993), Zhang captures the historical dimension of a rising consumer society by adopting the format and visual texture of the family album and by portraying ordinary Chinese persons in a form reminiscent of portraiture typical of the late Qing and the early Republican period. The smooth, brushless quality of the finish and the placement of the figures, often wearing Mao suits, on dim flattening backgrounds are distorted by the veering strokes of vivid colour and by the addition of physical blemishes to the faces, an expression of the struggle of the individual in the face of the power of collective and family ties, which is represented by the ubiquitous red line linking the various figures in the paintings. Zhang’s work has been shown worldwide. Among other venues he has figured in: Mao Goes Pop at the Sydney Museum of Contemporary Art (1993); Sao Paolo Biennale (1994); Venice Biennale (1995); Inside Out: New Chinese Art, Asia Society, New York (1998); and Paris-Pekin, Espace Cardin, Paris (2002).
Faces and Bodies of the Middle Kingdom (exhibition catalogue). Prague: Galerie Rudolfinum.
Chang, Tsong-zung and He, Xiangning (2002). ‘Zhang Xiaogang—Between Reality and Illusion’. Museum talk on 21 November 2002; partly available at http://www.Chinese-art.com, ‘Artist of the Week’ (9 January 2003).
Gao, Minglu (1998). ‘From Elite to Small Man: The Many Faces of a Transitional Avant-Garde in Mainland China’. In idem (ed.), Inside Out: New Chinese Art (exhibition catalogue). Berkeley: University of California Press.
Pollack, Barbara (1998). ‘PoMaoism’. Art & Auction (March): 110–15.
Zhang, Xiaogang (1997). Bloodline: The Big Family (exhibition catalogue). Beijing: Gallery of the Central Academy of Fine Arts.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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