Asia Society Presents First-Ever Museum Retrospective of Zhang Huan In New York
September 6, 2007 - January 20, 2008
NEW YORK, August 15, 2007 - The Asia Society announced today the first-ever museum retrospective of Zhang Huan, one of the most important and widely recognized Chinese artists working in the United States and China. It will be held in New York City from September 6, 2007 through January 20, 2008.
Zhang Huan: Altered States includes 55 of the artist's major works produced over the past 15 years in Beijing, New York, and Shanghai, including photographs and sculpture.
Born in 1965 in An Yang, Henan Province, China, Zhang Huan is best known for his controversial early works in performance art. When he began his career in Beijing, his performances focused on physical endurance, pushing the limits of what was acceptable to authorities in the early 1990s, post-Tiananmen.
In 1998, he moved to New York, where he saw greater freedoms and established his international career with larger-scale performances that often involved the participation of scores of volunteers. Last year, Zhang Huan moved to Shanghai, abandoning performance art in favor of works in sculpture, installation art, and painting. Many of these show greater connections to Chinese heritage and history. The exhibition is organized around these three distinct phases of the artist's work.
"Asia Society is thrilled to present the first-ever museum retrospective of Zhang Huan, one of the most important Chinese artists working today," says Asia Society Museum Director Melissa Chiu, curator of the exhibition. "Significantly, the exhibition is Asia Society's first retrospective exhibition of works by a living artist, signaling a greater commitment towards presenting the work of living artists. Although the exhibition charts one artist's personal journey, in many ways his experience is not unlike that of other Chinese artists of his generation, many of whom left China under difficult circumstances, found acceptance and success on the international scene, and are now choosing to return."
Zhang Huan: Altered States is accompanied by a fully illustrated hardcover 177-page catalogue that includes scholarly essays by curator Melissa Chiu and art critic Eleanor Heartney, first-hand accounts of Zhang Huan's early performance works in Beijing by the artist Kong Bu, and an essay by Zhang Huan, who provides his own perspective on his art and life.
In 1991, Zhang Huan began advanced study in art at China's premiere art school, Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, where his training concentrated on oil painting. While a student, he moved to an area on the eastern outskirts of the city and in 1993 established with his artist friends the legendary "Beijing East Village," named for New York's East Village.
During this time, Zhang Huan began creating extreme, body-based performances, showing his own body's response to extreme sets of conditions. One of the most memorable from this period records the artist sitting in a latrine covered in honey and fish oil to attract flies and insects (12 Square Meters, 1994). In 1995 he began staging larger-scale, collaborative performances such as To Add One Meter to an Anonymous Mountain (1996) and To Raise the Water Level in a Fishpond (1997).
The year 1998 was a turning point for Zhang Huan. Invited to participate in Asia Society's exhibition Inside Out: New Chinese Art, Zhang Huan traveled to New York and decided to stay in the United States. During this period Zhang Huan also began to stage photographs with a performance element. Family Tree (2000) offers nine views of Zhang Huan's face covered by more and more calligraphy in black ink, the last photograph showing his faced completely covered. Other performance works, such as Pilgrimage - Wind and Water in New York (1998) and My New York (2002), reflected upon the artist's experiences in the United States.
Beginning two years ago, Zhang Huan traveled with greater frequency back to China. He has since established a studio in a former garment factory in Shanghai where he produces works on a larger scale than ever before. This marked the end of his experimentation in performance art. His interest in Buddhism, which always figured indirectly in his earlier work, became more defined. Two enormous copper sculptures featured in the exhibition are based on Buddhist relics the artist has collected since his first visit to Tibet in 2005. Other sculptures, such as Ash Head No. 3 and Long Ear Ash Head (2007), are self-portraits made of burnt incense ash from local Buddhist temples. Other works are fashioned from found materials the artist retrieved from farmers across the countryside, such as a series of carved household wooden doors.
Zhang Huan: Altered States is made possible with critical support from Morgan Stanley as part of the Morgan Stanley Innovators Series. Major support has been provided by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., Harold and Ruth Newman, and anonymous donors. Additional support is provided by the Asia Society Contemporary Art Council, the Sheryl and Charles R. Kaye Endowment for Contemporary Art Exhibitions, and the National Endowment for Humanities.
About the Asia Society
Asia Society is the leading global and pan-Asian organization working to strengthen relationships and promote understanding among the people, leaders and institutions of the United States and Asia. The Society seeks to increase knowledge and enhance dialogue, encourage creative expression, and generate new ideas across the fields of policy, business, education, arts and culture. Founded in 1956 by John D. Rockefeller 3rd, Asia Society is a nonprofit educational institution with offices in Hong Kong, Houston, Los Angeles, Manila, Melbourne, Mumbai, New York, San Francisco, Seoul, Shanghai, and Washington, D.C.
One of the first American museums to establish a contemporary Asian art program in the early 1990s, the Asia Society Museum presents groundbreaking exhibitions and artworks previously unseen in the United States. Through these exhibitions and related public programs, the Society provides a forum for the issues and viewpoints reflected in the work of cutting-edge Asian and Asian American artists.
Asia Society and Museum
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Contact: Elaine Merguerian at 212-327-9271