Zhang Peili - China Avant-Garde: The Farber Collection London Friday, October 12, 2007 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Private collection, Pasadena

  • Exhibited

    Pasadena, Pacific Asia Museum, I Don’t Want to Play Cards with Cezanne and Other Works: Selections from the Chinese Avant-Garde and New Wave Art of the Eighties, 1989

  • Literature

    V. Doran, ed., China’s New Art, Post 1989, Hong Kong, 1989, p. 74; R. Strasberg, I Don’t Want to Play Cards with Cezanne and Other Works: Selections from the Chinese Avant-Garde and New Wave Art of the Eighties, Pasadena, 1991 (illustrated); M. Koppel-Yang, Semiotic Warfare: The Chinese Avant-Garde, 1979-89, A Semiotic Analysis, Beijing, 2002, p. 26, 61, 157

  • Catalogue Essay

    Zhang Peili, arguably China’s most important video artist, is a professor in new media at the Hangzhou Academy of Art. Born in Hangzhou in 1957, Zhang became a founding member of the influential, early Pond Society with close friend and fellow Cynical Realist Geng Jianyi. One of Zhang’s central concerns was to challenge societal complacency through his art, as well as the orthodox philosophy that art should be ideologically positive and “serve the people.” Wang Guangyi’s famous motto of qingli renwen reqing (“to expunge all emotion from art”) was in fact first voiced by Zhang Peili. In a style that was revolutionary for Chinese oil painting, Geng and Zhang’s early paintings both depicted, in a highly stylized, coldly angular fashion, mundane scenes of everyday life in daily urban life in muted colors.

    In 1987, Zhang produced his seminal X? series featured realist paintings of oversized latex gloves against a dark background (Lot 518). The glove motif stemmed from the Hepatitis A epidemic that year that necessitated entire working populations to wear latex gloves in desperate efforts to contain the outbreak. Together with Geng Jianyi’s The Second State, Zhang’s X? series became an iconic image of the Cynical Realists’ perception of the artificial horror of modern life. The gloves were superficially perplexing symbols: common and low-grade utilitarian objects, they were rendered mysteriously significant by their larger-than-life portrayals (some almost three feet long). Their smooth, manufactured surfaces contrast eerily with their creases and evidence of wear; the latex appears patently clean; yet protection is its only function. It as if the anonymous perpetrator had cast off his gloves just moments ago, leaving only these repositories of unknown, invisible substance or disease as evidence of his crime.

    Today, in the wake of SARS and acute industrial pollution, Zhang’s X? is a prescient harbinger of the problems raised by China’s environment and population. More strikingly, it remains a perfect metaphor for the disconnected and potentially toxic nature of contemporary life.



Oil on canvas.
38 5/8 x 30 7/8 in. (98.1 x 78.4 cm).
Signed, titled and dated “Zhang Peili [in Chinese] ‘X?’ 1987” on a label adhered to the reverse.

£25,000 - 35,000 

Sold for £102,000

China Avant-Garde: The Farber Collection

The Farber Collection
13 October 2007, 7pm