PACE Beijing is currently exhibiting a selection new works by Chinese painter Zhang Xiaogang, showcasing the artist’s interpretations of Chinese identity, memory and relation. The exhibition, part of PACE’s annual Beijing Voice’s event, is the first stop on the artist’s work in a global tour which will also include PACE exhibitions at their locations in New York and London.
Practicing since the early-1980’s, Zhang Xiaogang’s work frequently revisits the notions of memory and cultural ties, exploring the revision and reconceptualization of the past through the lens of the present. Avoiding simple characterization of the past as a static accumulation of time, Xiaogang explores its reshaping through the processes of nostalgia, idealism and cultural symbol.
Known for blending together and reconfiguring the lines between personal and collective memory, Xiaogang’s paintings touch on a distinctly Chinese sensibility while exploring his personal aesthetic choices of space, color and composition. While symbolically potent, the works are also intriguingly arranged, allowing the space of the canvas to work as a unifying force, co-dependent with the artist’s subjects.
A tangible sense of disintegration passes through Xiaogang’s work here, as culturally and personally resonant images cluster together in bizarrely dissonant configurations. In some works, the scale or depiction of Xiaogang’s subjects is bizarrely skewed; a small, yellow man sits next to a normally proportioned woman, offering little in the way of context or explanation. In others, the branches of the red plum tree intrude into domestic scenes, almost as if the viewer’s memory is passing into a state of degradation.
While somewhat surreal in their depictions, each work hints at a narrative reading, as if the paintings have captured these scenes as they play themselves out. They are subtle works, marked by the small items of everyday life: ornamental trees, electrical outlets, flashlights and medicine that add a potent weight to each work’s presentation. Stuck between the imagined and the detritus of the household, Xiaogang creates a world in limbo, trying to return to the past while struggling to fully understand what it was.
One of the longest practicing painters in contemporary Chinese art, Zhang Xiaogang has made innumerable contributions to current practice in the swiftly growing nation. His current solo exhibition offers a prime introduction to his work, and an insightful look at what he still has in store.
The show closes on February 28th.