Bloodline: Big Family No.9

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  • Provenance

    Serieuze Zaken Gallery, Amsterdam
    Private Collection, The Netherlands
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Beijing, Gallery of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Zhang Xiaogang: Bloodline: The Big Family 1997, 13 - 25 December 1997, n.p. (illustrated)
    Finland, Sara Hilden Art Museum, Zhang Xiaogang, 22 September 2007 - 13 January 2008, p. 34 (illustrated); further illustrated on exhibition invitation
    The Netherlands, Groninger Museum, Go China! Writing on the Wall: Chinese New Realism and Avant-Garde in the Eighties and Nineties, 23 March - 26 October 2008, pp. 114-115 (illustrated)

  • Literature

    Hanart TZ Gallery, Umbilical Cord of History: Paintings by Zhang Xiaogang, Hong Kong, 2004, p. 96 (illustrated)
    Gary G. Xu and Jonathan Fineberg, Zhang Xiaogang: Disquieting Memories, London, 2015, no. 66, p. 102 (illustrated)
    Rosa Maria Falvo and Bruce Gordon Doar eds., BLOODLINES:The Zhang Xiaogang Story, Italy, 2016, p. 342 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Presenting an extremely rare rendition by highly sought-after contemporary Chinese artist Zhang Xiaogang, Bloodline: Big Family No. 9 offers a master work from his most compelling body of works- the Bloodline (1993 – 1999) series. The iconic three-member family portrait has been described as being modelled after a photograph of the artist's brother as an infant and his parents. Existing between the collective vision of socialist China and his own dissonant voice, Zhang created the very first 'family' painting as a mode to negotiate the conflicts of group versus individual identity in early 1990s China. As a result of this series of meticulously rendered solitary figures and family clusters inspired by the artist’s Cultural Revolution-era family photographs, Zhang’s reputation grew significantly, especially after the artist was invited to exhibit several paintings from this seminal body of works in the world’s most important venues including the 1994 São Paulo Biennial and the 1995 Venice Biennale. Since then, Zhang’s esteem and the particular distinction of Bloodline has only grown to garner increasing critical attention and international acclaim. (K. Markley, 'Zhang Xiaogang Artist Index and the Bloodline Series,' Artnet News, February 26, 2012) Fresh to the market, Bloodline: Big Family No. 9 exemplifies a mature work by an artist accredited as one of the leading figures of contemporary Chinese art.

    Imbuing an intricate psychological dimension to the present lot, all three members of Bloodline: Big Family No. 9 stare solemnly straight-ahead towards the viewer. Around the right sides of the woman’s mouth, baby’s forehead and man’s eye, blocks or patches of light furthermore resemble birth marks, aged film, symbols of social stigma, or, alternatively, a “lingering sense of the sitter’s self-assertion.” (‘Zhang Xiaogang,’ Saatchi Gallery Artist Profile) Positioned around a baby based directly on the artist’s brother, illustrated in a bright red colour, the young man and woman—drawn from Zhang’s mother and father—wear modest cotton jackets and conservative haircuts, customs indexical to the Cultural Revolution era. While red is auspicious in Chinese culture, Zhang’s proclivity towards this hue also references the ubiquitous Mao-era slogan, “the Red, Bright and Illuminous” (紅、光、亮), a statement that prescribed the homogenised socialist realist style characterised by the “sleek surface” and filtered, “theatrical illumination” mandated of all art created during that time. (Gao M.L. quoted in 1995 in J. Chi Zhang, ‘The Meaning of Style: Postmodernism, Demystification, and Dissonance in Post-Tiananmen Chinese Avant-Garde Art,’ in R. Eyerman and L. McCormick, Myth, Meaning, And Performance: Toward A New Cultural Sociology Of The Arts, New York: Routledge, 2016) Infused from birth with the revolutionary colour of the red flag to furthermore signal the 'birth' of a new political regime, the red baby also appeared in Zhang’s earlier momentous painting exhibited at the 1992 Guangzhou Biennial, Genesis – Birth of a Republic No. 1 (1992). The central baby figure moreover remind critics of China’s controversial One-Child Policy introduced in 1978. Depicted with noticeably mature facial features in a realist style, both red babies convey peculiarly sombre and detached expressions indicating a preternaturally self-conscious awareness of being born into an era of political turmoil rife with tension and uncertainty. This is perhaps all the more significant considering that Zhang based the present work on a photograph taken on the occasion of his elder brother’s 100th Day celebration, injecting the work with a palpable sense of trepidation for the future.

    Invoking the title of the series, barely perceptible red threads weave around the baby- connecting him to his parents and linking the father figure to a space beyond the limitations of the canvas. Throughout the Bloodline series, Zhang ingeniously references Mexican painter Frida Kahlo’s use of red lines such as in the shared veins of The Two Fridas (1939). Though Zhang’s 'bloodlines' evoke the universality of memories of the Cultural Revolution, these red threads also recall how during that period, children were urged to draw clear lines between themselves and parents accused of transgression. Thus, in comparison to Kahlo’s explicitly exposed veins, Zhang’s 'bloodlines' are more elusive in meaning, denoting both the familial relations between figures and the troubling “chains that restrain them in the darkness.” (H. Yukihiro, Avant-garde China: Twenty Years Of Chinese Contemporary Art, Osaka: National Museum of Art, 2008) Though the image springs from a personal narrative, Bloodline: Big Family No. 9 can be interpreted as illustrative of a nation’s memory. “The way I understand the big family is always associated with the danwei [the state-sanctioned work unit] and my own family… being a member of a big family is an identity deeply rooted in the Chinese blood…” explains Zhang; “the phrase ‘big family’ stemmed from a Maoist slogan, ‘We all live in a big revolutionary family.’ This slogan emphasises collectivity and conformity, not individuality.” (Zhang Xiaogang quoted in J. Fineberg and G. G. Xu, Zhang Xiaogang: Disquieting Memories, London: Phaidon, 2015, p. 83).

    Painted primarily in black and white, Zhang’s Bloodline series borrows the language of photography, a medium that was considered precious due to its costliness at the time, to represent individual histories within the strict confines of formula. In Autumn of 1992, Zhang spent three months in Germany experiencing in person for the first time the modern western art he had studied profusely as a student through reproductions in books. Zhang’s encounter with Gerhard Richter’s exploitation of photography in painting as a means of undermining the photograph’s assumed truth value irrevocably altered Zhang’s relationship to painting. According to art critic Huang Zhuan, Richter’s use of photography prompted Zhang to consider “how to create a psychological reality on canvas… that is simultaneously phantasmagorical and substantial, complete with feelings of time and distance.” (Huang Zhuan quoted in J. Fineberg and G. G. Xu, Zhang Xiaogang: Disquieting Memories, London: Phaidon, 2015, p. 75) The blemish-free, impermeable effect of Zhang’s figures lacking in any visible brushstrokes illustrate the artist’s interest in re-touched studio photographs that standardise and imbue ideological culture onto private family matters. (Zhang Xiaogang, quoted in Huang Z., ‘Experience, Identity and Judgement, Interview with Zhang Xiaogang’, Gallery, no.5-6, 1996. Cited in J. Chang T.Z., ed., Umbilical Cord of History: Paintings by Zhang Xiaogang, Hong Kong: Hanart TZ Gallery, 2004, p. 46).

    Reading the Bloodlines series through the lens of the psychological trauma resulting from the Cultural Revolution does not comprehensively elucidate the emotional power of Bloodline: Big Family No. 9. Though Zhang’s repeated mechanisms in Bloodlines, including the stiff poses and colourless settings serve to group Zhang’s subjects as part of a collective referring to the lost concept of individuality, scholars have also pointed out that the issues of “dissonance between official and the remembered past, between individually perceived and publicly acknowledged truth, have global resonances too.”(J. Fineberg and G. G. Xu, Zhang Xiaogang: Disquieting Memories, London: Phaidon, 2015, p. 12) The blank expressions, exaggerated by the similar facial features of all members of the present lot, invite viewers to fill the void within the image with their subjective stories, experiences and reflection. Zhang has written that these figures represent "souls struggling one by one under the forces of public standardisation," with "faces bearing emotions smooth as water but full of internal tension," a description not necessarily having only to do with the cultural specificity of China but could also reveal the global issues affecting change in the world today. ( Zhang Xiaogang quoted in M. O’Dea, ‘Artist Dossier: Zhang Xiaogang,’ Art + Auction 34, no. 7, March 2011, pp.103-106).

  • Catalogue Essay

    《血緣系列9號-大家庭》乃深受歡迎的現代中國藝術家張曉剛之珍罕作品,亦是引人入勝的《血緣》(1993-1999)系列之中最具代表性作品。一家三口的畫像別具意味,據說乃參照畫家的親哥哥在嬰兒時期與雙親的合照畫成。處身於社會集體主義之下的中國與渺小個人的異見之間,於1990年代初期創作出首幅「家庭」畫作,望藉此調和集體與個人之間的衝突。畫家以文革時期的家庭照為藍本,繪製出一系列細緻的個人與家庭畫像,因而聲名大噪;當中數幅作品分別於1994年及1995年參加聖保羅雙年展及威尼斯雙年展,此後更加引人矚目。自此,對張曉剛的讚譽以及《血緣》系列的稱道,愈發吸引評論家注視及國際讚賞。(K. Markley, 《藝術家索引- 張曉剛與血緣系列》, Artnet News, February 26, 2012) ,《血緣系列9號-大家庭》被譽為是現代中國藝術首屈一指的畫家的巔峰之作。

    畫作充滿複雜精細的心理維度。圖中三人均以莊嚴目光直視前方的觀畫人;位於女人嘴角右方、嬰兒額頭及男人眼睛的淺色斑塊既像胎記,又似舊底片,可以是社會污名的標誌,或是「三人自我宣言的殘留感覺。」(‘張曉剛,’ 薩奇畫廊藝術家檔案)嬰兒以奪目色彩描繪,是以畫家兄長作為藍本,而圍坐嬰兒兩旁的年輕男女則是畫家的父母,他們的樸素棉襖和保守髮型均是文革時期的典型扮相。在中國文化裡,紅色代表吉祥,但同時,這種張曉剛喜用的色彩亦帶出毛澤東時代常見的口號「紅、光、亮」-口號代表社會主義、現實主義風格畫作的單一標準,當時所有作品均須以「井然有序的呈現」以及經過過瀘的「劇場光線」為特色。

    紅色的嬰兒自出生就帶有革命紅旗的色彩,進一步標誌新政體的「誕生」。他曾在張曉剛重要作品、曾參加1992年廣州雙年展的《創世篇一號-一個共和國的誕生》(1992年作)中出現。身處畫作中央的嬰兒也使畫評人聯想到自1978年推出後爭議不絕的一胎政策。兩幅畫作中的紅色嬰兒均以現實風格描繪,面部特徵成熟,表達出特殊的沉重和抽離感,暗喻異於尋常的自我意識。他們似乎明白自己生於政治動盪的時代,將要面對壓力與無常變幻。更重要的是,張曉剛以兄長出生百日所拍下的照片作為藍本,或許正是要為畫作注入明顯的不安感。

    畫中,一些隱約的紅線圍繞在嬰兒的身旁, 連繫他與父母,也連接父親與畫布以外的空間,與系列標題《血緣》互相呼應。而在整個《血緣》系列中,張曉剛亦巧妙地引用墨西哥畫家芙烈達‧卡蘿以紅線表達的模式,與她的作品二個芙烈達(1939年作)一脈相承。雖然張曉剛的「血緣」喚起大眾對文革的回憶,但這些紅線也使人聯想起在那個年代被迫與被指犯下過失的雙親劃清界限的孩子。因此,相比起卡蘿的清晰脈絡,張曉剛的「血緣」來得更隱晦,既代表畫中人的家庭關係,亦標誌著令人不安的「將他們束縛於黑暗的枷鎖。」(H. Yukihiro, 前衛中國: 中國當代藝術二十年, 大阪國家美術館, 2008) 雖然《血緣系列9號-大家庭》源自個人經歷,但它也可被視為民族回憶的表述。張曉剛曾解釋道:「我對大家庭的理解,一直與單位(國家批准的工作機構)和自己的家庭分不開……作為大家庭的一員,是滲透了中國人血液的一種身份……。『大家庭』這句話來自毛澤東主義的口號:『我們是革命大家庭。』口號強調集體和從眾,卻沒有個體。」( J. Fineberg and G. G. Xu, 〈張曉剛: 不安的記憶〉, 倫敦: Phaidon, 2015, p. 83)

    在文革時期,由於價格昂貴,攝影是一種特別受到珍視的媒介。張曉剛的《血緣》系列借用攝影語言,以黑白為主調,在公式化強硬框架之內帶出個人故事。1992年秋天,張曉剛曾於德國居住三個月,首次親眼看到學生時期在書中看過的現代西方藝術作品。在看到格哈德‧李希特如何將攝影運用於畫作、顛覆眾人對攝影真確性的假設後,張曉剛對繪畫的看法徹底改變。據藝評家黃專所說,李希特對攝影的運用,促使張曉剛思考「如何在畫布上創造一個……變幻莫測但又實在、具有時間和距離感的心理現實。」畫作中的人物毫無瑕疵,難以參透,不帶任何可見的筆觸痕跡,呈現了畫家對經修整的攝影照片的看法:這些照片將私人家庭生活變得單一刻板,並注入意識形態文化。( Huang Z., 《經驗,認同與判斷--訪談張曉剛》, no.5-6, 1996,錄於漢雅軒,〈時代的臍帶:張曉剛繪畫〉,香港,2004年,第46頁)

    透過文革造成心理創傷的視角細看《血緣》系列,並未能全面闡明《血緣系列9號-大家庭》所帶來的心靈震撼。雖然張曉剛在系列中重複運用相同手法-包括僵硬姿勢及欠缺色彩的背境等,來表達失去個體的概念,但有學者指出,畫作亦反映了「官方歷史與記憶之間的不協調,個人感知與公眾認知的真相之間的不協調。這在世界各地均可造成迴響。」(J. Fineberg與徐鋼,《張曉剛: 不安的記憶》,倫敦,2015年,第12頁)空洞的表情經作品中三人相似的面部特徵進一步放大,邀請觀畫人以個人故事、經歷與反思填補其中的空白。張曉剛曾寫道,這些人物代表了「面對大眾單一標準的壓力,一個個靈魂的掙扎,」在「平靜如水的表情背後,是充滿張力的感受」-這不僅是中國文化特色之下的人物,亦是捉進當今世界變化的全球議題。(M. O’Dea, 《藝術家檔案:張曉剛》, Art + Auction 34, no. 7, 年3月, 第103-106頁)

  • Artist Bio

    Zhang Xiaogang

    Chinese • 1958

    Relying on memory and inspired by family portraits from the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Zhang Xiaogang creates surreal, subtle artworks that explore the notion of identity in relation to the Chinese culture of collectivism. Using a muted, greyscale palette, Xiaogang repeatedly depicts a series of unnervingly similar figures, often dressed in identical Mao suits, to create an endless genealogy of imagined forebears and progenitors. Their somber, melancholy gazes are interrupted only by thin red bloodlines intimating familial links as well as occasional pale splotches of color resembling birthmarks.

    Xiaogang investigates how to express individual histories within the strict confines of a formula. His sitters, while appearing muted and compliant, are given physical exaggerations: oversized heads, tiny hands and long noses. These distortions imply stifled emotions and give a complex psychological dimension to the artist's work.

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Pioneers of Modernism: A Selection from The Scheeres Collection

Bloodline: Big Family No.9

1996
signed and dated 'Zhang Xiaogang [in Chinese] 1996 Zhang Xiaogang [in Pinyin]' lower right
oil on canvas
148.7 x 189.2 cm. (58 1/2 x 74 1/2 in.)
Painted in 1996.

Estimate on Request

sold for HK$38,350,000

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Pioneers of Modernism: A Selection from the Scheeres Collection

Hong Kong Auction 27 May 2018