When the artist reveals all

An artist who uses his paintings, sculptures and photos to discuss the physical body and the truths of our times

The Chinese Zhang Huan is one of the most radical cutting edge talents of the contemporary international scene, and his work deserves praise for underlining the flaws of both Western and Oriental societies.

After graduating from the CAFA Art Museum in Beijing and a series of important formative experiences in the US, Zhang started to work between Shanghai and New York where in 1994 he was among those who set up a very provocative movement on the East Side whose performance were often broken up by the Police. In his performance "12 Square Meters" Zhang covered himself entirely in honey and fish oil and sat for hours naked in a public bath, allowing himself to be covered in flies. A very extreme work that effectively represented the drama of poverty and overcrowding in China and in many other countries.

And this is the general tone set by the protest performances created by Zhang and his group. On occasion nine artists stacked their naked bodies on on top of the other on top of a mountain to increase its height. The work, entitled “To Add One Metre to anonymous Mountain”, was a way to draw attention to the environmental frailty of the planet and how human activities can determine its fate.

On returning to his own country Zhang has continued his research through the medium of paint, his first love, and sculpture.

The fierce provocative energy remains but it is now focused on more spiritual, and at times ascetic subjects. His work is still that of a very fine poet who has the uncanny knack, which few can claim, of pinning down the contradictions of his own time.


This article is also published in the May/June issue of eastwest.

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