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Zhang Xiaogang: A Collectors Guide

5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ONE OF CHINA’S MOST SIGNIFICANT CONTEMPORARY ARTISTS, ZHANG XIAOGANG.

Works featured on offer in West Chelsea Contemporary.

Zhang Xiaogang in his studio

Chinese contemporary trailblazer Zhang Xiaogang spent much of his career in search of the Chinese identity and his own understanding of life. His accumulation of Western styles, found in his highly acclaimed Bloodline series, offers new perspectives on the eras of turmoil through which Xiaogang lived. He exhibits his work internationally, most notably featured in Pace Gallery in New York, the 1995 Venice Biennale, and the Daegu Art Museum. 

  1. Zhang Xiaogang survived three historical eras of immense cultural turmoil. Xiaogang’s childhood aligned with the era of Mao Zedong and the Cultural Revolution, where a young Xiaogang witnessed the sending off of his parents to separate re-education camps in 1968. Mao Zedong had a great influence on the artist’s upbringing, forcing him to work on a farm as part of his “Down to the Countryside Movement.” He also implemented his ideology into Xiaogang’s school, The Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts, which strictly focused on Revolutionary Realism. What resulted from Mao’s imposition was Xiaogang’s interest in Western philosophy and introspection. China’s one-child policy, which began in 1980, created a large generational gap and a staggered national Chinese identity. Among some of the most monumental events in Chinese history is the Tiananmen Square Incident of 1989. This incident is a tragic story of unity, division and, repression, where up to one million Chinese citizens rallied together to protest the Chinese government in the square. The protest concluded with government tanks firing at the protesters, which ultimately stunted the liberal reform.
Zhang Xiaogang, Untitled, from Bloodline: Big Family (2007) available at West Chelsea Contemporary
  1. Xiaogang’s trip to Europe was critical in his artistic transformation. He traveled to Germany in 1992 to study and practice Western art so he could discover his artistic identity. While there, Xiaogang observed the works of Rene Magritte, a famous surrealist painter, which greatly influenced his Bloodline series.  His time outside of his own country allowed him to view China from an outside perspective. He discovered that Chinese art was underrepresented in the global art scene. Xiaogang had an epiphany; if he were to continue being an artist, he must be an artist of China. This was the beginning of Xiaogang’s quest to discover the collective identity of China in its cultural context. 
  1. His Bloodline series is considered “era-defining.” This series epitomizes what Xiaogang set out to do as an artist of China after his trip to Germany. Inspiration struck in 1993 while he was looking through his old family photos. To him, these photos reflected the big picture of society and his own understanding of life. These identical figures maintain a blank, daydreaming expression in reference to the traditional Chinese family portrait and the disconnect from the dense eras of turmoil. The patches of light on their faces, reminiscent of aged film or birthmarks, symbolize the influence of time and society on a person, as well as a person’s own influence on society. The complicated condition of Chinese history and the confusion it inflicts on the individual within their culture is an important part of the Chinese identity. Zhang Xiaogang recognizes and embraces this aspect in his work as he himself searches for his own place in Chinese society.

“My paintings strive to capture a person’s process of growing up and the experiences they go through, as well as how they are influenced by the time period in which they lived.” – Zhang Xiaogang

Zhang Xiaogang, Bloodline Series No. 3 (2003) available at West Chelsea Contemporary
  1. Zhang Xiaogang was once shunned from exhibiting his work at Chinese galleries and museums. The ever-changing political climate in China has majorly affected the country’s art scene. Mao Zedong implemented a strict set of guidelines unto art institutions, but during their opening up process resulting from the open-door policy of 1978, Chinese art began making its entrance into the global scene. With academic institutions and the Chinese government dictating the Chinese gallery scene before the open-door policy, Zhang Xiaogang’s ideology was not accepted. Xiaogang and others formed the South West Art Group in 1986, an independent artist group that sought to reevaluate and revitalize notions of Chinese culture and combat China’s collective rationalism. This group would become critical for the development of contemporary Chinese art. A notable change in China’s attitude towards Xiaogang’s art resides in the collectors’ motives for buying his work. Instead of collectors purchasing his work for its status, they now purchase his work for its quality, as Xiaogang regarded.
Zhang Xiaogang, Two Sisters, from Big Family (2003) available at West Chelsea Contemporary
  1. He was hospitalized during a dark period of his life. After graduating from the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts, Xiaogang was denied a teaching position and forced to work in labor-intensive jobs. Xiaogang faced a period of depression fueled by alcoholism, which led to his hospitalization from alcohol-induced internal bleeding. His experience while there was life-altering, and he states, “When night dawned, groaning sounds rose above the hospital and some of the withering bodies around had gone to waste and were drifting on the brink of death: these deeply stirred my feelings.” The collective pain Xiaogang witnessed and participated in at the hospital left a mark on the artist that still translates into his work today.

“Different lifestyles, life experiences and surroundings leave different impressions in a person’s heart.” – Zhang Xiaogang


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What’s on now at WCC:

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West Chelsea Contemporary presents the Austin International Art Fair, a 7 week long, large-scale immersive exhibition featuring rare works by an impressive roster of international art world masters. Included in the show is father of Surrealism Salvador Dalí with an exceptional selection from the Argillet Collection. Additional featured artists include: Neo-surrealist Australian artist Gil Bruvel, Gary James McQueen, contemporary Chinese artists Zhang Xiao Gang, Yue Min Jun, and Zao Wu Ki, as well as Neo-Pop Japanese artists Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara.

Salvador Dalí | Zhang Xiaogang | Takashi Murakami | Yoshitomo Nara | Gil Bruvel | Yue Minjun | Gary James McQueen | The Connor Brothers | Edward Burtynsky | Maurizio Cattelan | The Love Child | Sofia Cianciulli | Peter Doig | Roberto Dutesco | Kate Garner | Claude Gassian | Damien Hirst | Liu Bolin | Raphael Mazzucco | Vik Muniz | Lyora Pissarro | Gerhard Richter | Gillie & Marc Schattner | Mila Sketch | Hunt Slonem | Matthew Trujillo | Victor Vasarely | Antoine Verglas | Albert Watson | Zao Wou-ki | Rimi Yang | Russell Young | Zhong Biao

Reach out today to inquire or acquire.

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