Zhang Xiaogang - Contemporary Art Part I New York Thursday, May 17, 2007 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Max Protetch, New York; Beijing Commune, Beijing

  • Exhibited

    Beijing Commune, Home, April 18 - May 28, 2006

  • Catalogue Essay

    Zhang Xiaogang’s “In-Out” series (the Chinese title, li he wai, more accurately translates as “Interior and Exterior”) is the long-awaited follow-up to the artist’s acclaimed Bloodlines series. The landscapes and rooms depicted in this series assume the same quietly haunting quality of the Bloodlines and Comrades works, extending the social and cultural constructions of Zhang’s familiar “Big Family” into the spaces they inhabit in memory and reality. The “exterior” paintings in the series depict flag-festooned outdoor scenery that strongly evoke nostalgic ideals of the collective idyll; these tranquil settings however, are oddly devoid of human presence. The “interior” paintings depict the insides of Chinese apartments, spartan but meticulously ordered, except for stray details that mimic the individualizing function of the colored patches in Zhang’s previous series. Both “interior” and “exterior” works are linked by the blurred, Richter-esque painting technique broken only by a single, contrasting vertical or horizontal line of a lamppost, Chinese flag, or a wire and naked bulb in sharp focus—the sole motif carried over from Bloodlines. As Bloodlines presented us with reimagined pictures based on traditional studio portraits, In and Out offers up idealized landscapes contrasting with empty interiors that are the personal, haunting sites of individual memory and desire.

    The room depicted in the present lot simmers with repositories of stored information, and communication. Two of Zhang’s most powerful symbols ground the picture: the lamp on the floor, connected to a wire, and a television set. The immaculate books, albums, and VCR represent repositories of carefully documented memories that remain clues just a hand’s reach beyond the viewer’s power of consummation. Like the airbrushed portraits in Comrades and Bloodlines that invite our scrutiny for meaningful detail, the furniture of In and Out exudes the same purposefully bland, inscrutable quality that defies direct interpretation. The viewer finds himself caught in an uncertain, yet intimately familiar setting: are we like thieves or voyeurs in the room while its occupant is absent? Or have we found ourselves in the very shoes of a Bloodlines character, tantalizingly caught inside the heads of these mysterious beings? Either way, we find ourselves entranced by the expanded universe of Zhang’s haunting figures, yet scarcely closer to unraveling their mystery.

  • Artist Biography

    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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In-Out Series No. 8

Oil on canvas.
59 1/8 x 73 3/4 in. (150.2 x 187.3 cm).
Signed and dated “Zhang Xiaogang [in Chinese] 2006” lower right.

$200,000 - 300,000 

Contemporary Art Part I

17 May 2007
7pm New York