Zhang Huan - Photographs London Tuesday, November 22, 2022 | Phillips

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  • “The body is the only direct way through which I come to know society and society comes to know me. The body is the proof of identity. The body is language.”
    —Zhang Huan
    During the 1990s, Zhang Huan’s (b.1965) provocative conceptual performances, which tested his physical and spiritual endurance, established him as one of China’s most celebrated artists. Using his body as his medium, Zhang challenges notions of national and personal identity. Immigrating to New York in 1998 profoundly impacted Zhang’s understanding of his own identity as a Chinese artist. Created less than two years later, Family Tree presents an intimate exploration of culture and selfhood. As Zhang recalls: ‘I invited three calligraphers to write texts on my face from early morning until night…My face followed the daylight till it slowly darkened. I cannot tell who I am. My identity has disappeared.’ The writing includes Chinese proverbs, family relations and histories, literary texts and words deriving from the ancient practice of physiognomy. Gradually obscuring Zhang’s discernible features, the calligraphy shifts from legibility into an obliterating mask. Using the camera to record the evolution of this ephemeral performance, the artist delves into the correlation, and even the arbitrariness, between his natural and constructed self. The nine photographs of Family Tree together transform viewers into participants, inviting them not only to engage with Zhang’s performance, but also to reflect upon their own intrinsic and constructed identities.

    • Provenance

      Lawrence and Kathy Schiller Collection, California
      Phillips, New York, Exceptional Photographs, 24 April 2007, lot 27

    • Exhibited

      PhotoGENEsis: Opus 2, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 9 November 2002 - 9 February 2003, another
      Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video from China, MCA, Chicago, 2 October 2004 - 16 January 2005, another
      Rising Dragon: Contemporary Chinese Photography, 25 March - 2 September 2012, Katonah Museum of Art, another
      Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China, The Met, New York, 11 December 2013 - 6 April 2014, another

    • Literature

      Zhang Huan - Pilgrimage to Santiago, Santiago de Compostela: Xunta de Galicia, 2001, p. 85
      Chinese Avant-Garde Photography Since 1990, Changsha: Hunan Fine Arts, 2004, p. 93
      W. Hung et al., Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video from China, Chicago: Smart Museum of Art, 2004, p. 140
      Zhang Huan: Altered States, New York: Asia Society, 2007, pp. 129-137
      Made in China: Contemporary Chinese Art at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem: The Israel Museum, 2007, n.p.
      Made in China: Works from the Estella Collection, Denmark: Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2007, p. 407
      R. Vine, New China, New Art, Munich: Prestel, 2008, p. 111
      Zhang Huan, London: Phaidon, 2009, n.p.



Family Tree

Nine chromogenic prints, printed later.
Each image: 54.6 x 41.9 cm (21 1/2 x 16 1/2 in.)
Each frame: 65 x 53 cm (25 5/8 x 20 7/8 in.)

Each signed, titled in Chinese, dated and numbered 1/25 in ink on the verso.

This work is number 1 from the sold-out edition of 25. This work is sold out in all sizes and editions. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Walther Collection, Neu-Ulm and the Yale University Art Gallery each hold a set from this edition.

Full Cataloguing

£60,000 - 80,000 

Sold for £75,600

Contact Specialist

Rachel Peart
Head of Department, London


Yuka Yamaji
Head of Photographs, Europe


General Enquiries
+44 20 7318 4092


London Auction 22 November 2022