Hidden in the Depths of Reality
Hidden in the Depths of Reality
Zhong Biao Solo Exhibition
Caught in glimpses throughout the various images of the world is the omnipresent destiny which underlies reality. Beneath the layer of destiny is the trend of imperceptible influences, within the depths of those trends is the limitless movement of universal energy. The world of reality and the world of energy are an interrelated pair, and so, to look at it from another point of view, it is the movement of the limitless universal energy that decides a trend, a trend that creates destiny and destiny that changes the direction of our each and every moment. Of those vast and broad connections which lie in the depths of reality, that part that is recognised by humanity becomes the everyday knowledge of cause and effect, whilst the part that goes unrecognised is known only as imperceptible influences. Therefore, the act of true creativity is to turn the secrets hidden in the depths of reality into common knowledge, to turn the underlying trend of imperceptible influences into vast and surging waves. On such an artistic journey, the life of the individual naturally blends into one with the objective world, and as a result becomes a journey of freedom.
Opera Gallery opens its doors to Zhong Biao this month for an exhibition of the distinctly symbolic but the no less visually exceptional artwork. Whether global consumerism, Maoism or Revolution are concepts you wish to see played out through the painted canvas or you merely have a penchant for aesthetics, Biao is not to be missed. Zhong Biao stands today as one of the world’s most enigmatic and eminent Chinese artists. If this artist is not straightforward, then he is profoundly entertaining. Biao’s popularity stands true through his vast body of work alone, and then you truly experience it; you enter his world, a world inhabited by those whose stories you do not know, but you want to. Whether engulfing an entire wall, or just a couple of metres of its space, all you see before you is manipulated, and beautifully so. Described as folding space-time, your gaze will at once be disturbed, and inertia banished. There is no time here, there are only all times. Biao himself is laden with philosophical currency on his work. Fate will play its part, art will change, the rules of art will rally against art itself; all will mutate. For Biao, life is in constant transition; the present before long has become the past. Human individuals are the most temporary, depicted in black and white because almost instantly, they will become relics. His artwork and his outlook form a clearly defined cycle and his canvasses are both controversial whilst remaining at all times, beautiful and immersive. ‘I have only one dream’ says Biao, ‘that the people I have painted will, many years from now, visit the people of the future on my behalf, taking along with them this chaotic world’. Biao once said quite effortlessly that even he does not foresee whom or what will emerge from the canvassed world teetering beneath his brush. What beautiful drama will unfold before you? Come and find out…
Gilles Dyan Founder and Chairman, Opera Gallery Group
Stéphane Le Pelletier Director Asia Pacific, Opera Gallery
Youthful Spirit As for social life and the changes that come along with the advancement of civilization, using the labels ‘70’s’, ‘80’s’ or ‘90’s’ to make distinctions, shows an inability to recognise the true situation, resorting to dividing people up into their year groups like a classroom monitor. In fact, the boundless movements of universal energy start in a period of chaos, gradually gathering an innate power, creating an intangible trend of certainty, that first sweeps along the collective unconscious, then gradually penetrates the subconscious; an astute minority of people will perceive this in their subconscious and actively bring it to the level of consciousness, and through the application of effort realise it, becoming an avant-garde that reveals the trends before they are widely known.
Great Art Subjectively speaking, great art must satisfy three conditions: 1. Accuracy is the ability to express your aim with concision, it incorporates the combination of your knowledge, technique, intelligence and experience. 2. Reality, meaning the reality of life and of art, combined in the depths of your heart, which rejects the traps of the unsubstantial, utilitarian and foolish, it is the pursuit at the beginning and the end of art, it is the reason to exist as an artist. 3. Freedom is the territory that is comprehended and realized on the path of constant breakthrough from the boundaries of ‘self’ and ‘history’. It is the ambition of art.
The process of brainwashing that trends have on the subconscious is the precursor to the acceptance of new ideas beyond the structure of accepted knowledge. The trend is like the rushing waves of a great whirlpool, disturbing the form of the currents, the people most easily swept along are those whose view of the world is still at a formative stage, people in this stage are mostly youths, which is why there is the tendency to classify social cultural phenomena according to age groups. If we persist in this tendency, taking the malleability of youth as the only chance to dance with the currents, then we are certain to be unwise to the trends, following the currents blindly, our vivacity will eventually be spent. The time will come when the beach-goers, once tempted by the sands of time, walk out of their youthful years. Then they will look at the waters flowing away and cannot but feel helpless.
Objectively speaking, great art takes one of three forms:
Only those who do not persist in phenomena, but grasp the truth; only those who can combine the realization of the individual life with the imperceptible rules of nature; only those who plunge from the currents into the depths of the greater trends at work only they can perceive the trend, and move forward with it. Reaching such a state has nothing to do with age. This is the only way to transcend the withering of the youthful physical body, and to gain a youthful spirit that constantly renews itself.
Great art, resembling an act of nature in its perfection!
1. It combines the values of its times with the life of the individual, and passes on those values through a unique artistic form, that is art of the times. 2. On that basis, whilst perceiving the movement of time and space, at critical moments in historical development, artistic creation adds to that momentum, that is a turning point, art that defines the times. 3. Transcending time and space, joining the ancient past to the momentary, vast and exquisite, using the artistic form to present profound universal values, this is art that transcends the times.
The Material and Immaterial Worlds
It is not true that nothing existed before the materialisation of mankind and objects. In the profound depths of the immaterial world, the movement of energy does not remain still even for a moment, creating transformations between the real and unreal, exchanges between yin and yang. The state of chaos does not exist in any co-ordinate of time and space, it must be experienced and understood in the state of chaos. Chaos is a series of almost imperceptible changes without a beginning or an end, through the conduction of various mediums, energy gradually obtains a form, slowly it develops its unique characteristics, as those characteristics become more established, they produce their own limitations. When we come to this world everything starts to become clear. We have an independent body, gender and social classification, the patterns of our inner flexibility are externalized as rigid rules, the interaction of yin and yang that was once self-satisfied within the state of chaos requires a member of the opposite sex to be completed. The relationship between the sexes often experience some friction in their coming together, due to discrepancies in our characters, status, environment and other such factors, rather than being a more fluid transition. The flowing waters of the state of chaos turn into the crossovers of intervals in the tangible world. From hidden possibilities to living phenomena to rigid reality, everything exists already, it is revealed only in passing.
The material and immaterial worlds are in essence two parts of a whole. The material world refers to what mankind in his current state is able to perceive and what is counted as common knowledge; the immaterial world refers to everything beyond the material world. Because the two worlds are delineated based upon their level of perceptibility, the divide between the two is slightly different for each person. Take for example the certain psychological connections present in the peculiar actions of someone in ill health, they seem to be of the material world to a psychologist, yet they seem to be entirely of the immaterial world to the patient. The rules of art, for example, seem immaterial to a physicist, whilst the laws of physics appear the same to the artist. The more we understand innate rules, the less we will be confused by phenomena. In reality, if a person’s cognitive level is significantly lower than the average, their life will be full of passive experiences, a sad life. When a person’s cognitive exploration goes far beyond that of mankind’s current state, at the same time as experiencing the most fulfilled spiritual life, he will gradually lose his natural drive for life because he cannot come back down to earth as it is at present, he will be unable to settle on any particular time in history because all of his drive for life is in the realm of phenomena. True freedom means the ability to constantly transcend limitation. In the process by which the secrets in the depths of reality become common knowledge, such a person will shuttle between the material and immaterial worlds, dancing with the boundaries, travelling together with existence and non-existence.
In fact, chaos is omnipresent even in the material world. What we refer to as matter, as form, is nothing but a drop in the ocean of the expanse of chaos. As for the collision of media in the world, the meeting of forms, the connection between events - these partial moments of clarity add up to the massive entirety of chaos, and for this reason alone, do we have the chance to seek out the source of energy that lies before the birth of form, to realise the relationship between micro and macro, to attribute the inherent and clear limitations of life to the state of chaos and to thereby attain a state without limitations ?
A Fantasy Fantasy can open the heavens, because miracles are only another layer of normality.
Polymer In the worlds of the material and immaterial, the smallest of monomers is still the polymer of even smaller elements. Therefore, our own lives are in fact temporary polymers of the vastness of time and space, evolving within the packaging of our skins, constantly transcending the demise of the individual through the act of reproduction. Where there is coming together there must be falling apart, when the withered physical body is consumed by fierce flames and turned into ashes, the temporary polymer disintegrates, and is scattered to the four winds. Indestructible matter and the immaterial continue to seek their next chance of coming together amongst the chaotic world in which real and unreal co-create, entering into a new vehicle by chance to be reborn, endlessly producing new derivatives. Perhaps the soft tissues at the end of one finger in this life will become a moment of inexplicable emotion in the next, maybe the blood on a blade of ancient times will change into a computer virus, perhaps the chance experience of a climax will merge with a signal transmitted from outer space …owing to the limitlessness of various types and channels, the process of coming together and falling apart truly crosses the barriers of life and death, traversing the two freely.
It is the dramatic moments of life that are unforgettable. There are masterstrokes hidden in the drama that occurs here and there, before we have time to digest them they are covered over by new storylines. As long as God is unwilling to put down his brush, the dust will never settle, it will continue to float in mid-air. Drama concentrates the trivia of life, it connects a hundred threads to the power source of meaning, it joins up the pieces of human life, transplanting meaning into the interactions between characters, activating potential associations. For those who cannot see through phenomena, there is no choice but to hang around waiting for drama, but for those who feel the broader connection, every detail of their life is connected to the script.
Classicism The idea of Classicism refers to taking what is agreed upon as a collective consciousness of a people with a shared experience within the parameters of a certain time and space, and to create from that representative works of art. Classicism has a communal background, and is produced in relation to its context, it gradually builds up to form collective memory. With the passing of time, as each generation departs, taking with them their collective memories, those that follow on from them can only seek out clues from what has been documented, leading to the gradual fading of the original classics. There are two situations wherein the classics do not fade: the first is that even when removed from its original context, the work is full of the hopes common to humanity, such as appeals to the emotions, or demands of technique and so on; the other possibility is that the classicism of the work leads to its being transmitted through the ages together with its context, to become an example for future generations to enjoy, such as the urinal by Duchamp.
Ten Thousand Years, 2011 Acrylic on canvas - 200 x 150 cm - 78.7 x 59.1 in.
Boiling, 2011 Acrylic on canvas - 200 x 150 cm - 78.7 x 59.1 in.
Fields of War, 2011 Acrylic on canvas - 200 x 150 cm - 78.7 x 59.1 in.
And So, 2011 Acrylic on canvas - 97 x 130 cm - 38.2 x 51.2 in.
And So Detail
Happiness, 2011 Acrylic on canvas - 200 x 150 cm - 78.7 x 59.1 in.
Horizon on the Move, 2011 Acrylic on canvas - 200 x 150 cm - 78.7 x 59.1 in.
Wormhole to the Past, 2011 Acrylic on canvas - 200 x 150 cm - 78.7 x 59.1 in.
Suspicion, 2010 Acrylic on canvas - 150 x 200 cm - 59.1 x 78.7 in.
Suddenly, Time Stood Still, 2011 Acrylic on canvas - 200 x 280 cm - 78.7 x 110.2 in.
Paradise Lost, 2011 Acrylic on canvas - 280 x 200 cm - 110.2 x 78.7 in.
Zhong Biao: Tableaux for the 21st Century Zhong Biao, a professor at the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, currently lives and works in Chongqing and Beijing. An artist of genuine technical flair, Biao captures both the pleasures and disadvantages of materialism in his oil paint tableaux of current life. As an artist, he is at pains to render the global good life many Chinese increasingly experience; additionally, he carefully implies that such an existence must be experienced in a continuum with the past. Images such as cars and highways, as well as groupings of people, are taken from everyday life, and they are juxtaposed with the inclusion of exaggerated brushstrokes and what look like explosions of rocks into mid-air. Artifacts such as scholar’s rocks make their way into Biao’s paintings. In a general sense, he is arguing for cultural synchronicity, whereby what happened long ago is put side by side with more recent developments. The consequences of comparing the images, all of them jostling for the viewer’s attention, suggests that the past lives a long time, beyond the principle of what has already happened, into the unfolding present and the unknown future. Thus, in Biao’s work, we must look at the iconographic clues he leaves us to comprehend the terms of the paintings’ meaningfulness. It is not that Biao is so dedicated to puzzle making, but rather that he insists on the living reality of cultural objects, no matter when they were made. His viewers learn to take in the multiple areas of interest all at once, and it is only later, after we have contemplated Biao’s implicit meaning, that we can do a more acute, more concentrated job of addressing what can be called esthetic questions. At the same time, emblems, representative of life now, make him an extraordinarily self-aware artist in his search to convey what it means to be alive in the 21st century. It is a brave new world we contemplate, albeit one in which technology is blindly served. Biao makes it clear that his interest lies in the accurate rendering of contemporary life, in which all events are of equal importance. But this does not guarantee tranquility: we are meant to hold on carefully to our sensibilities because the ride the artist provides is a rough one that leads ineluctably into the future. As a result, Biao’s scenarios take on momentary force, showing us how to maintain our interest in the three kinds of time we conceive of: past, present, and future. If we do not do so, it becomes clear that we are lesser citizens in a world that in truth offsets the humdrum with the visionary. Generally, Chinese art has since the 1980s used pains to comment socially on the explosion of wealth its embrace of capitalism has created. Indeed, the artists themselves have been forced to handle the increased prices and speculation that accompany the burgeoning market in their own field. Inevitably, some of the artists have capitulated to the market, making art that panders to commercial taste. But not everyone has done so, and Biao falls into the category of painters who present a mixed reading of things as they are. In his art, 26
the apocalypse accompanies rose-colored visions of daily life; the comparisons engendered by seemingly random juxtapositions place the viewer in an omniscient position, as someone who can weave the random events of life into a unity of experience. But this is hard to do; art such as Biao’s present the visual equivalent of all - over thematic insight, in which no one image is more important than any other. This may well be accurate in a metaphysical sense we are bombarded by signals and events that we privately assign to a hierarchy of importance, one which is accurate for ourselves alone. In the case of Biao’s art, there is no particularly strong attempt to construct a ladder of meaningfulness - each image seems isolated in its own world, literally next to something else: crowds, children reading, the rubbish of destruction.
The Beginnings of Chaos The paintings articulate a global situation, in which different people and places are thrown up against each other in a near anarchy of imagery. Indeed, a painting from 2009, ‘The Beginnings of Chaos’, shows us disorganization and turmoil to an absurd degree, at the same time allowing Biao to paint abstractly, so that the idea of disorganization becomes a pretext to work in a particular style. Just as Biao juxtaposes images, so does he set next to each other figuration and abstraction (‘The Beginnings of Chaos’ shows us only abstraction). ‘The Possibility That Cannot Be Shown’ (2009) has a nexus of paint strokes in the center of the painting; but to the upper left is an empty painting frame. The irony here is complex; the frame cannot contain that which cannot be shown, while the convergence of abstract marks seems to comment on the unruly nature of reality, in which anything that can happen usually does. Biao takes care presenting both visible reality and non-objective abstraction in the same field, and we bridge the two through mutual comparison. Current painting practice seems to call for eclecticism, which is Biao’s great strength. The empty frame stands for the impossibility of truly capturing the real as it happens to us; and the chaos appears to indicate the disorderly nature of the real. Not all of Biao’s paintings are so metaphysical; some are simple,
extended fantasies. ‘Walking on Clouds’ (2009) shows persons passing through the sky, as if they could walk on clouds, toward a framed picture of clouds without people in it. The picture frame in Biao’s hands becomes a philosophical device, enabling him to show how painted reality mimics actual reality. Yet the frame in this painting is also suspended in mid-air, so that it seems to be framing actual clouds rather than painted ones. Even so, the entire scene is artificial in the sense that it has been rendered. As a result, the artificial mimics the real, which mimics the artificial, in ways that dazzle our understanding of what is actually - or artificially - happening. Sometimes, though, all the self-referential metaphysics disappears in Biao’s art, and he nearly becomes a history painter - or rather a painter of recognizable situations. In one as yet unnamed work painted in 2011, an older man and a boy read newspapers; behind them is an open wooden structure, perhaps a stables because there is a horse in it. The two figures are Westerners, but beneath them is Biao’s signature mass of disconnected strokes, which lead to an attractive Chinese girl with her arms outstretched.
Fading Season Clearly, the artist is offering an allegory of sorts, although its terms remain obscure. One feels as though the world of Einstein has been entered, as if space and time were on familiar if fragile terms. Allegory usually limits interpretation in the sense that the painter intends a specific reading. This painting, which, like most of Biao’s work, can be read allegorically, becomes a meditation on the origins of historical time in cultures that may or may not synchronize with each other. As a method, it yields notable results: perhaps the young woman is a contemporary muse, while the Western elder and boy are witnesses to the devastations of history. Interestingly, the eclecticism is so extreme it proves hard to pin down, so that the reader of the allegory remains uncertain whether the interpretation is correct. This strikes me as distinctly contemporary - everywhere subjectivity seems to be undermining plausible meaning. In an important way, then, Biao is a postmodern artist, intent upon undermining the way we assume something is true in a visual sense or in a metaphorical one. What are we to make of the canvases themselves, crowded as they are with the presence of people, objects, and the brushmarks of art? The paintings seem to construct a reality that is in constant motion,
intermingling space and time to the point where the two lose their rigidity and become a fluid consortium. In Madrid (2009), early 20th century buildings share the painting space with Chinese guardians, seemingly sculpted in stone. In the foreground, a gymnast arches his back to the point where he is extended horizontally; as a result, we see his head and features nearly upside down. On the left side of the composition, its background painted brown, we see the taut legs of a diver in front of a scholar’s rock, behind which a duplication, in color, of the black-and-white scene on the right is found in a frame. Black smoke appears to issue from one of the buildings inside the frame but continues beyond it, seemingly drifting outside the picture entirely. The combination of thematic elements doesn’t make sense, but the feeling is one of absurd grandeur; the artistic achievements of the ages are in some sort of agreement - or is it disagreement - with the present, as dramatized by the repetition of the gymnast. One hopes that the classicism will not be erased by sports from a secular age, but it seems inevitable that the classical souvenirs - even those as wonderful as the scholar’s rock and the statues - will give way before the triumph, physical and metaphysical, of the new. Thus the situations presented in the art of Biao don’t necessarily connect, either as elements of a single composition or as components of a unified theme. But that does not mean they cannot coexist indeed they do, in the imagination of the artist and ourselves. Just as our memories can carry in the same moment a view of objects from differing cultures and epochs, so can Biao demonstrate a kind of mastery over such objects by depicting them simultaneously in the same picture plane. He assumes that our understanding of reality is based on a kind of visual grab bag, from which we take images and populate our imagination. There is a poetic truth to this, since we pick and choose our objects of remembrance, to the point where Biao’s constellations of things serve as a good metaphor for the way the mind works. This means that the specific ties between the disparate images may not be as important as the overall gestalt. Impressions yield to a complex blend of cultural artifacts, so that the scholar’s rock is made that much more compelling by the presence of the contemporary diver’s muscled limbs. What results is a mixture a blend of historical and contemporary time. Biao presents his audience with an array of things capable of suggesting classical history and the way we live now. In consequence, Biao concedes a certain power to classicism, even as he insists on the vibrant energy of our lives now. One hesitates to read his esthetic as allegory, yet there is a symbolic vision that supports his art. Maybe the mass of chaotic energy he depicts forms the basis of the cosmos, and maybe the mores of modern time are indeed influenced by the classical past. Jonathan Goodman 27
Come Out of your Shell, 2011 Acrylic on canvas - 280 x 200 cm - 110.2 x 78.7 in.
Fading Season, 2011 Acrylic on canvas - 280 x 200 cm - 110.2 x 78.7 in.
Photosynthesis, 2011 Acrylic on canvas - 130 x 97 cm - 51.2 x 38.2 in.
Flowers of Dawn, Gathered by Dusk, 2011 Acrylic on canvas - 97 x 130 cm - 38.2 x 51.2 in.
Flowers of Dawn, Gathered by Dusk Detail
The Lover, 2011 Acrylic on canvas - 130 x 97 cm - 51.2 x 38.2 in.
And the Waves Roll On, 2011 Acrylic on canvas - 200 x 150 cm - 78.7 x 59.1 in.
Musical Wormhole, 2011 Acrylic on canvas - 215 x 330 cm - 84.6 x 129.9 in.
Thisrt, 2011 Acrylic on canvas - 130 x 97 cm - 51.2 x 38.2 in.
Look into the Future, 2011 Acrylic on canvas - 130 x 97 cm - 51.2 x 38.2 in.
Attraction, 2011 Acrylic on canvas - 130 x 97 cm - 51.2 x 38.2 in.
VERTIGO: The ecstatic Art of Zhong Biao the burden of academic art’s earnestness without lapsing into the jejune cartoon esthetic favored by so many of his younger Asian artists.
Artist’s studio As Chinese art has reflected the nation’s startling changes over the past century-shifting emphasis from timeless esthetic refinement to socialist realism to Western -influenced avant -gardism- it has left today’s artists with a dilemma. On the one hand, they are expected to come up with their own formal coup, a compelling successor to the wild ferment that, in the 1980s and 1990s, broke Chinese art free from both traditionalist and Maoist strictures, transforming it into a global market sensation. On the other hand, they are faced (as the People’s Republic comes proudly into its own as a world power) with a resurgent nativism- an overwhelming market preference, within China, for antiquities and latter-day traditionalist art (especially ink painting and nostalgic oil on canvas figuration), coupled with a widespread critical insistence that even the most brashly experimental new art should retain a distinct-and maddeningly indefinable-quality of ‘Chineseness.’ For Zhong Biao, these challenges are compounded by a biographical fluke. Born in 1968, in the midst of the Cultural Revolution (the artist’s parents plucked his personal name Biao, meaning ‘windstorm,’ from the lines of a patriotic poem), he essentially missed the 1985 New Wave movement and its aftermath, when slightly older peers (Xu Bing, Wang Guangyi, Gu Dexin, Zhang Xiaogang, Huang Yong Ping, etc.) were forging the art that the Western world 42
now knows as ‘contemporary Chinese.’ While political confrontation was building in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in spring 1989, the 20-year-old Zhong was, by his own poignant account, out in the provincial mountains, hiking with a friend: ‘At that moment in Beijing, in places like Beijing University, Beijing Normal University, Renmin [People’s] University and the China University of Political Science and Law, students were gathering to march on Tiananmen Square… Close to midday we reached the top of the mountain. The peak was like a stage, from far off in the distance came a sound like waves beating upon the shore.’ i How, despite such a seeming profound disconnect, did Zhong within a decade come to have such a sure feel for the social pulse of his nation, offering one of the freshest visions of China - indeed, of contemporary life in general - currently available in painting? His figures, whether lounging in up-to-date milieus or soaring weightlessly through space, whether hobnobbing with ancestors or boogying through futuristic cityscapes, seem utterly in and of this cultural moment. (It helps that their bodily motions look directly observed, not derived by rote from artistic precedents.) His compositions, complex yet graphically clear, often mix disparate locations and temporal references with nonchalant, postmodern élan. Exploiting the communicative power of pop-cultural images, the artist has deftly escaped
The sense of psychological incongruity that struck Zhong in the mountains at the height of the Tiananmen era, and is now obliquely echoed in his work, had a geographical corollary as well. His artistic formation took place far from Beijing. Raised in the southwestern city of Chongqing, home of the Sichuan Institute of Fine Arts, considered by many the premier oil painting school in China, Zhong trained instead at the Zhejiang Art Academy (now China Academy of Fine Arts) in Hangzhou, 150 kilometers south of Shanghai. Second in status only to the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, the ZAA was then (and arguably remains) the edgier of the two, accommodating unorthodox painting as well as experiments in video and other new media beginning in the late 1980s. Yet Zhong’s studies there were in straightforward Western-style oil painting taught, as everywhere in China, through the venerable French Academy method, as conveyed to the PRC by Russian Soviet teachers in the mid-20th century. Zhong graduated in 1991 and returned to Chongqing (a city-prefecture of 29 million) to teach at the Sichuan Institute, where he continues to hold a position. After appearing in scores of gallery and museum shows in China and abroad, he established a second, now primary, studio and residence in Beijing in 2007. Zhong’s early work displays the rich painterliness associated with China’s conservative-modernist faction: thick paint, worked surfaces, and ‘common-life’ subjects. Nothing was at odds with his youthful exposure to Rembrandt and Munch, Scar Art (work alluding to the suffering caused by the Cultural Revolution), and Rustic Realism (weathered but idealized folk subjects). The artist’s first tentative swerve toward a Pop sensibility occurred in 1989, when- in violation of Chinese academic convention - he painted in the label text on a yogurt container used in tabletop study (Cheng Contemporary Art). His Zhejiang Academy graduation project, the tripartite ‘City Passer-by’ series (1991), featured thinner paint, less color, a graphic-design style, and some jarring compositional ploys: a Coca-Cola ad next to a guardian lion; a male human figure whose top half merges with the background wallpaper; another that sports normal feet and legs blending into the headless, gowned torso of an ancient statue. Zhong was now obviously casting his lot with the more adventuresome Chinese artists, those willing to make their artistic strategies part of their message. According to critic-historian Lü Peng, Zhong’s breakthrough came in 1994 with Nostalgic Series: ‘Youth’, a compositional mélange centering on a young woman in contemporary bohemian-chic garb, leaning into a body stretch and surrounded by a traditional statue,
a McDonald’s signpost, a freeway flyover, a luxury auto and several rundown Chongqing residential buildings -all under an oversized daytime moon. Undeniably, the work brims with what Lü calls Zhong’s ‘penchant for unrelated experiences - a David Salle-like tendency that has intensified in the course of his subsequent career’. i i Once Zhong hit upon his signature method, he began to produce works in dazzling profusion. Hundreds of paintings, many of enormous scale, have poured from his hands with an abundance of imagery-and a uniformity of technique-that renders the usual critical survey of developmental ‘phases’ futile. Zhong’s postmodern all-atonceness is both his method and his theme. But understanding the nature of that visual Biao requires-and rewards-a systematic analysis. Although Zhong’s compositions give the immediate impression of multiplicity and simultaneity, they are built on a matrix of binaries. Chromatically, most play with a contrast between large areas of ‘colorless’ flat tan or gray (the faded hues of ancient scroll paintings) and the Pop-bright colors of today’s clothes, cars, ads and electronic images. Many works contain passages of pure abstraction counterpoised to others of precise representation. The near and the far-off, both in time and space, are brought together in ways that minimizes perspective without quite banishing it altogether. So too are nature and cityscapes, East and West, male and female figures, old people and young, rich and poor, common folk and famous personages (Benjamin Franklin, Che Guevara, Alfred Hitchcock, Jesus Christ). Although some figures may relate to each other in groups (couples, families, professional colleagues, chums hanging out), there is no obvious narrative interaction between Zhong’s characters. Indeed, many soar through space like solitary embodiments of the universal dream of flying. (Free-floating signifiers, anyone?) A greater contrast to the generational, regional, and social embeddedness of every person and every object in traditional Chinese life could scarcely be imagined. One looks in vain here for the extended families, self-monitoring communities, minutely calibrated imperial bureaucracies, or post-Liberation work units of China’s past. The Chinese present that Zhong captures (first in the myriad photographs from which he works) is a realm of social displacement and rapid urbanization, of deracinated elders and untethered youths. Yet Zhong’s juxtapositions never reach the absurd, illogical extreme of Salle’s pictorial grab bags. Rather, as in the work of Germany’s Neo Rauch, a sense of coherence at some deeper level intriguingly persists. Zhong’s key motif is that of suspension within the flow of time and universal energy. Each individual, group, architectural structure, and event is but a momentary, changing formation in an ongoing cosmic unfolding. Zhong’s vision, as propounded in an interview with Yin Suqiao, 43
commingles elements of Tsaoism, Hegelianism, and astrophysics: ‘the universe is the movement of boundless energy which decides the inevitable tendency of events, which creates destiny, which changes the direction of each following moment.’ i i i Occasionally, Zhong translates that vision into huge installations that employ murals, videos, sound, and mirrored walls to envelop visitors-making them, in effect, parts of the very works they are viewing and giving them a visceral sense of unfettered surging.
Revelation, 2008, Shanghai ‘Mirage’, mounted in the Denver Art Museum in 2009, stretches 18 meters from a scene of generative comic explosion, across lightning-shattered dark space, to a contemporary world full of tumbling people and animals, cityscapes, a Western religious tableau, a view of the New York Stock Exchange, and more-all structurally culminating in the upturned face of a Chinese child. To create ‘For the Future’, the artist literally gift-wrapped the Z-Art Center in Shanghai during the opening of the city’s World Expo in 2010. Inside the building, huge murals, their imagery similarly spanning eons, were accompanied by holographic projections, videos, interactive stations, and mirrors. Opening night brought live music, art performances, and a fashion show, yielding a totally immersive environment that evoked China’s dazzling social changes and futuristic orientation.
of places and times. i v Zhong extends this physical fact first into a historical postulate: ‘each of our todays is a combination of all our yesterdays and all that is today will be included in tomorrow, it is a process of perpetual motion.’ Individuals and institutions succeed in their endeavors only by acting in concert with the larger current of events: ‘the overall tendency of history does not move according to human will power, whereas people make great achievements when moving in accord with it.’ The role of the artist is to express the ‘collective subconscious’ of the current state of affairs and its prevailing vector. v Zhong does not stop there, however. He then transforms his historical proposition into a metaphysical tenet: in a universe that began in primal chaos, ‘our final destination is to reach a state where there is no beginning, no end and no borders.’ vi From the grand perspective, ‘the past, the present and the future [are] a pre-existent whole.’ vii This notion is virtually identical to the Christian concept of eternity, which St. Aquinas characterized as ‘total simultaneous existence.’ Yet it also has strong ties to traditional Chinese thought and art. Walking along one of Zhong’s gargantuan murals is, in many respects, like unrolling an ancient pictorial scroll, entering imaginatively into scene after scene while slowly accumulating a sense of the whole journey and the whole world it progressively reveals. Even Zhong’s individual works often meld time with distance in the manner of venerable brush and ink masters. ‘Come Out of Your Shell’ (2011), although composed almost entirely of human figures in limbo, is structured like a venerable waterfall painting. The thrusting train engine of ‘Home Is Where’ (2011) implicitly contrasts the modern propensity for linear travel to the meandering of old river pictures, while reminding us with equal force that, in Zhong words, ‘as physical beings we are fated to spend our lives in transit.’ The fluttering birds in ‘The Taste of Forbidden Fruit’ (2011) might be at home in a 13th or 14th-century hanging scroll like ‘Hunting Falcon Attacking a Swan’, but the half-nude, sexy babe would not-except in the secretive tradition of erotic art. Clearly Zhong’s eye is selective, as attested by his oeuvre’s disproportionate number of striking young women in alluring attire and
While Zhong’s worldview can seem chaotic - offering a stark contrast to the steady, ‘harmonious’ development espoused in official quartersit is in fact based on a unifying principle, derived from a basic observation of modern science. Light, travelling at a precise, invariable speed, can require thousands of years to cross the immense space between planets and stars. This means that any observer, at any given moment, sees not the actual present but multiple emanations from the past, all chronologically jumbled due to the varying distances of the sources. Mere nanoseconds may separate us from a friend’s face, while three millennia may have passed since a point of light we see in the sky tonight departed from its remote galaxy. And observers in the future will see us as part of a comparable mishmash
For the Future, 2010, Shanghai poses. But his selectiveness serves a greater purpose. For all his hip imagery and vivid Pop hues, Zhong endows specifics of time and place (even brand-name products and cool fashion items) with a pervasive sense of timelessness. This suggests his response to the sphinx’s riddle of ‘Chineseness.’ Whereas traditional art, rooted in the natural order (typically mountains and water, birds and flowers), conveys a sense of static timelessness, of perpetual cycles and enduring forms, Zhong’s art, rife with signs of globalism, consumerism, and urban life, presents a dynamic eternity- one of innumerable shapes and events, all of them constantly mutable.
Given the immensity, diversity, and conceptual ambition of his work, Zhong must be classed as one the few artists anywhere today with a certifiably epic vision. However presumptuous some critics may find it, his bold confidence undeniably reflects China’s most fundamental sense of itself as the Middle Kingdom-the center of the world physically and metaphysically, the prime repository of wisdom from the past and the destined arbiter of the world’s future.
i Zhong Biao, ‘Setting Out from 1968,’ in Zhong Biao et al., Zhong Biao, Hong Kong and Beijing, Timezone 8, 2010, np. ii Lü Peng, ‘The Tendency of Events,’ Ibid. iii Yin Suqiao, ‘The Natural Formation of Various Effects-An Interview with Zhong Biao,’ Ibid. iv Zhong Biao, ‘Return to the Future, ’The Night for the Future-Zhong Biao, Shanghai, 2010, exhibition brochure, Shanghai, Z-Art Center, 2010, np, and ‘The Invisible Present,’ remarks e-mailed to the author, Nov. 25, 2011 v Yin Suqiao interview, Zhong Biao vi Ibid. vii Zhong Biao, ‘Revelation,’ The Night for the Future, np. Embrace, 2009, Denver Art Museum
Realize Possibility, 2011 Set of 8 artworks
1 - Possibility, 2011 Acrylic on canvas - 215 x 330 cm - 84.6 x 129.9 in.
2 - Observing Independence, 2011 Acrylic on canvas - 80 x 60 cm - 31.5 x 23.6 in.
3 - Rain of Petals, 2011 Acrylic on canvas - 48 x 36 cm - 18.9 x 14.2 in.
4 - Sight and Pace, 2011
Acrylic on canvas - 48 x 36 cm - 18.9 x 14.2 in.
5 - Energy, 2011 Acrylic on canvas - 28 x 22 cm - 11 x 8.7 in.
6 - Dust Storm, 2011
Acrylic on canvas - 48 x 36 cm - 18.9 x 14.2 in.
7 - Lotus Hands, 2011 Acrylic on canvas - 32 x 26 cm - 12.6 x 10.2 in.
8 - Forbidden Desires, 2011
Acrylic on canvas - 64 x 84 cm - 25.2 x 33.1 in.
Leisure, 2011 Silkscreen print on Arches 88 paper, edition of 99 Signed ‘Zhong Biao’ in Chinese and English and dated ‘2011’ on the bottom - 108 x 81 cm - 42.5 x 31.9 in.
Passer By, 2011 Silkscreen print on Arches 88 paper, edition of 99 Signed ‘Zhong Biao’ in Chinese and English and dated ‘2011’ on the bottom - 108 x 81 cm - 42.5 x 31.9 in.
8th March, 2011 Silkscreen print on Arches 88 paper, edition of 99 Signed ‘Zhong Biao’ in Chinese and English and dated ‘2011’ on the bottom - 108 x 81 cm - 42.5 x 31.9 in.
ZHONG BIAO BIOGRAPHY 1968 Born in Chongqing, China raduated from the Oil Painting Department of the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts 1991 G (now: China Academy of Art), Hangzhou, China Associate Professor, Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, Sichuan, China Lives and works in Beijing and Chongqing, China
SOLO EXHIBITIONS 2011 Z hong Biao Reflected on Air, Frey Norris Contemporary & Modern, San Francisco, USA 2010 For The Future, Z-art Center, Shanghai, China 2009 T he Tendency of Events, Yuz Art Museum, Jakarta, Indonesia 2008 T he Position of Zhong Biao, Galerie Frank Schlang & Cie, Essen, Germany Revelation, Shine Art Space, Shanghai, China eyond Painting - Works by Zhong Biao, Xin Dong 2007 B Cheng, Space for Contemporary Art, The Old Factory 798 Art District, Beijing, China Zhong Biao: American Debut, Frey Norris Gallery, San Francisco, USA
Splendid, Over 10 Years of Exploration, Olyvia Oriental Gallery, London, UK hong Biao, Zeit - Foto Salon,Tokyo, Japan 2006 Z Chance Encounter, ChinaToday Gallery, Brussels, Belgium 2004 U biquity, Art Scene Warehouse, Shanghai, China Zhong Biao, Benamou Gallery, Paris, France 2001 A Chance Existence, Art Scene China Gallery, Hong Kong 1997 The Fable of Life, Schoeni Art Gallery, Hong Kong 1996 T he Fable of Life, Museum of Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, Chongqing, China
GROUP EXHIBITIONS 2011 C hina in Paris, ‘An Evening of No Boundary: Presenting China Contemporary Creativity’ held by China Garments Association and French Federation of Haute Couture, France-Amériques, Paris, France Fabricator, Soka Art Center, Beijing, China Splendid Ethics, In.ter.alia. Art Company, Seoul, Korea New Dream, 15+1 2011 Contemporary New Artwork, J. of New Weekly Ideology and Manifestation, Winshare Art Museum, Chengdu, China Mountains beyond Mountains, Enjoy Museum of Art, Beijing, China 58
hina Welcomes You, Oldenburg Museum, 2010 C Oldenburg, Germany Yellow Gate, Kwangju Museum of Art, Kwangju, Korea Research Represent: Traditional Painting, Times Art Museum, Beijing, China Reshaping History Chinart from 2000 to 2009, China National Convention Center, Beijing, China East/West: Visually Speaking, Hilliard Museum, Lafayette, Louisiana, USA MOCA Jacksonville, Florida, USA
2009 E mbrace!, Denver Art Museum, Denver, USA The Sichuan Movement: New Paintings from China th The 35 AJAC Exhibition of Tokyo Metropolitan 16 Sichua Artists Joint Exhibition, Museum National, Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan Jakarta, Indonesia Beijing - Havana: New Contemporary Chinese art 2007 The Power of The Universe: Exhibition of Frontier Revolution, Cuba Museo Nacional de Bellas Arts, Contemporary Chinese Art, Asia Art Center, Havana, Cuba Beijing, China The Very Condition, Wall Art Museum, Beijing, China One Sleep for Ten, Hejing Yuan Art, Beijing, China 2008 Ah! We People, History, Exhibition of Studies of Adidas ‘Gong Zhen’, Sport in Art, MOCA Shanghai, th Chinese Art of the 20 Century, The Museum of Shanghai, China China Central, Beijing, China Starting From the Southwest, Guangdong Museum of Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, China Art, Guangzhou, China Hypallage, The Post, Modern Mode of Chinese Chinese Contemporary Sotsart, The State Tretyakov Contemporary Art, The OCT Art & Design Gallery, Gallery, Moscow, Russia Shenzhen, China Thermocline of Art - New Asian Waves, ZKM, Today’s China, Belvue Museum, Brussels, Belgium (Center for Art and Media), Karlsruhe, Germany Intimate Trend: Painting from Sichuan and Taiwan, 2006 Hyper Design, 2006 Shanghai Biennale, Shanghai Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts, Taipei, Taiwan Art Museum, Shanghai, China 55 Days in Valencia: Chinese Art Meeting, Instituto Oriental Imagination, China Art Museum, Beijing, China Valenciano de Arte Moderno (IVAM), Valencia, Spain The Self-Made Generation: A Retrospective of New Beijing, Athens Contemporary Art From China, TechChinese Painting, Shanghai Zendai Museum of nopolis of the city of Athens, Athens, Greece Modern Art, Shanghai, China
2005 A bove and Below the River: Oil Paintings of the New Period in China, China Art Museum, Beijing, China Grounding Reality, Seoul Art Center, Seoul, Korea In the Deep of Reality: A Case of Chinese Contemporary Art, UG Beyond City, Hangzhou, China c1985, Shanghai In Honor of 85: 2005 Duolun Modern Art Museum, Shanghai, China The Second Triennial of Chinese Art, Nanjing Museum of Art, Nanjing, China 2004 T he 10th National Exhibition of Chinese Arts (Prize for Excellence), China Art Museum, Beijing, China No Distance, 2004 China Building Site Avant-Garde Art Exhibition, Upriver Town, Chongqing, China
Chinese Contemporary Art Exhibition of Painting, Salvador, Brasilia, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, National Art Museum, Lima, Peru, Mexico Post Palace, Mexico City, Mexico, San Diego, Chile 2001 N ext Generation: Contemporary Asian Art, Passage de Retz, Paris, France China Art Now!, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore 2000 At The New Century: 1979-1999 China Contemporary Art’s Works, Chengdu Contemporary Art Gallery, Chengdu, China 1999 S harp New Sights: From Young Artists Born Around 1970, Beijing International Art Gallery, Beijing, He Xiangning Art Museum, Shenzhen, China
2003 Image of Image, Shenzhen Art Museum, Shenzhen, China The First Beijing International Art Biennale, China Art 1997 Walking to a New Century: Young Chinese Oil Painters, Museum, Beijing, China China Art Museum, Beijing, Guan Shanyue Art Museum, Shenzhen, Pacific Plaza, Chongqing, Art 2002 Harvest, Contemporary Art Exhibition of China, Museum of Luxun Fine Arts Academy, Shenyang, China China Agriculture Exhibition Center, Beijing, China 60
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