EX: 1/30/2012
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2012.12.07 Fri, by
Ashes to Ashes:
Ground Control to Major Zhang

My Literary Teacher” includes a subtle reference to China’s ink and landscape Shanshui artistic tradition and Western notions of it — “literati-style” — with the delicate, possibly bamboo, leaves hovering above the woman’s head. The Literati movement itself originally established in opposition to the accepted stylistic practices of staid imperial court composition, advocated a return to nature, a pure truth, principles that reverberate strongly in the present day. Bamboo fronds reappear in “Winter Jasmine” (2008), which depicts the master painter and reputed forger, Chang Dai-chien, seated at home (notably in Taiwan, the break-away Nationalist province being another leitmotif). Chang appears with various calligraphic scrolls in the background — truth and authenticity are at stake (but culture too). Taiwan is also present in “Drum Mountain,” (2008) which depicts the founder of a progressive Buddhism organization in Taiwan. Could it be that the rift of “Canal” might also refer to the political and geographic one between the mainland and Taiwan — symbolic of diverse fractures in Chinese life, that Zhang believes Buddhism can help to heal?


The key work in the White Cube exhibition was “Fire.” Noted writer and propagandist, Wei Wei (1920-2008), also a Henan native, is depicted finishing the manuscript of his 1978 novel “In the East.” But Zhang shows the manuscript kindling flames. In “Flag,” the Stars and Stripes are also kindling, and one wonders what else has begun to smoke. There is a type of nausea at work, a combination of ennui and panic. And it extends beyond the ash paintings to the installations — strategic games all — from the giant Madonna and Child of “Dawn of Time” to the wrecked ghost train of “Hope Tunnel,” and the schizophrenic pairing of a demented Confucius with a giant one soaking in his bath. Whereas the ash paintings are explosive time capsules, the installations are shock treatment. While the installations provoke us to see, the paintings ask us to recollect.



“Zhang Huan: Dawn of Time,” Shanghai Art Museum, February 3 – 28, 2010 (People’s Square, 325 Nanjing West Road).

“Hope Tunnel,” Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA), July 17 – October 24, 2010 (798 Art District, No.4 Jiuxianqiao Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing).

“Zhang Huan: Q Confucius,” (curator Fumio Nanjo), November 15, 2011 – January 29, 2012, Rockbund Art Museum (20 Huqiu Road, Huangpu District, Shanghai).

“Zhang Huan: Ash Paintings and Memory Doors,” May 5 — August 19, 2012, Art Gallery of Ontario (317 Dundas Street West, Toronto, Ontario, Canada).

“The Mountain is Still a Mountain” White Cube, July 20 — August 26, 2012 (144-152 Bermondsey Street, London).


Richard Vine, catalogue essay, “The Mountain is Still a Mountain,” 2012: White Cube: London.