Zhang Xiaogang - Contemporary Art London Thursday, June 21, 2007 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Hanart T Z Gallery, Hong Kong

  • Catalogue Essay

    How is one to interpret Zhang's work, taken as a whole? The first point to be made is that, though the primary sources are photographic, the paintings also have roots in traditional Chinese ancestor portraits. These ancestor portraits, full of detail but impassive, reflect a very Chinese view about the importance of continuity. Throughout China's turbulent 20th century, this was challenged, not merely by the violence of events, but by the need to absorb new political and social ideas. Zhang's work suggests that deep-rooted traditional concepts of this kind have survived in the places where one might least expect to find them—among the intellectual elite, and among those who have been most completely exposed to western culture and who have assumed many of its outward forms.
    Zhang's paintings also suggest something else - the enormous emotional pressures that a newly emergent Chinese middle-class has had to sustain, and which, to some extent at least, it continues to sustain. These are people with an immense turmoil locked up inside them. The turmoil is signaled by small signs. For example, in some of the group paintings one of the subjects, usually a child, will have a squint, where one pupil, rather than staring directly ahead, wanders into a corner of the eye-socket. In a composition where everyone else is staring fixedly at the spectator, this produces a uniquely disturbing effect.
    E. Lucie-Smith, in an article titled “Zhang Xiaogang”, from the Hanart TZ
    Gallery website.

  • 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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Oil on canvas.
74 1/4 x 58 1/2 in. (188.6 x 148.6 cm).
Signed and dated “Zhang Xiaogang [in Chinese and English] 1998” lower right.

£500,000 - 700,000 

Contemporary Art

22 June 2007, 4pm & 5pm