Zhang Xiaogang

China 1958

Sculpture, Surrealism


Zhang Xiaogang
Zhang Xiaogang
October 27, 2014
Music, Gestalt, .

Zhang Xiaogang is one of the most influential and acknowledged painters in the contemporary art world of China. In his fruitful career, he managed to explore many social, philosophical and intimate subjects, developing a unique style and certain seriousness in his paintings. Using his own life, the lives of the people he shared political history with, and personal emotional turmoil, he put all his thought and reasoning into his surreal and symbolic paintings. Growing up in China was not all roses and butterflies for this artist, and he spent many years rejuvenating and recuperating. Everything that he learned about socioeconomic and political occurrences and their impact on culture and art, he wrapped up in a symbol and shared his opinion through painting.

The artist started out with paintings of rural scenery

zhang chinese zhang chinese zhang series chinese zhang family series chinese big revolution works gallery history zhang family series chinese big revolution works gallery history Zhang Xiaogang - Gui Shan (detail) , 1984
Zhang Xiaogang – Gui Shan (detail) , 1984

Cultural Revolution and Scenes from Rural Region

Xiaogang was born in 1958 in Kunming, to parents who worked for the government. His mother taught him how to draw and his playtime with crayons was a sort of disciplinary measure for him. When he was in adolescent age he was sent to work on a farm, as a part of the government program called Down to the Countryside Movement where young people from the city would be sent to the countryside in order to get practical skills. Many high-school graduates recall this time as the time of lost generation of China. While participating in physical labor on the farm, Xiaogang was concurrently learning how to paint. He learned how to work with watercolors and how to make sketches. This was the time of Cultural revolution, and the political outbreak strongly influenced Xiaogang’s painting. He decided that art was his true calling and successfully enrolled the Sichuan Academy of Fine arts in 1977, where he studied oil painting.

Xiaogang went through a phase where he occupied his mind with contemplations about death and addiction

Zhang Xiaogang - Lost Dream No.10 Goat, 1986
Zhang Xiaogang – Lost Dream No.10 Goat, 1986

Personal Growth and Introspection

Changes in his style and theme were directly related to fluctuations in the establishment and his personal life. He started out with paintings of rural scenery where he used tiny and distinctive brush strokes to emphasize movements in nature. Xiaogang always incorporated his personal beliefs into his work, and when the insinuate had to be censored, he would turn to subtle implications in style. For example, in the 80s, he imitated the brush work of Vincent Van Gogh when portraying the works in the field. When he was already a graduate, he began exploring his psychological and mental life, as well as the collective state of mind of his generation. The results were surrealistic paintings, full of symbols and tokens. He was personally going through a rough patch, and after spending almost two months in a hospital, he occupied his mind with contemplations about death, disease, and addiction. He managed to go through a period of profound melancholy and find the light at the end of a very dark road.

In Bloodline series he established strict and bold style

Zhang Xiaogang - Bloodline - Big Family (left), Details (top right and top bottom), 2009
Zhang Xiaogang – Bloodline – Big Family (left), Details (top right and bottom right), 2009

Bloodline Series of Portraits

What he is most famous for is his Bloodline series that he started producing in the 90s and continued to release them throughout the first decade of 21st century. He established a distinctive style, strict and bold, supported by monochromatic palette and clean look, that made the portraits stand out even more. The theme was family and how relationships between family members were regulated. The policy of the house was directly established by the government and house rules were only modified and changed in secrecy. There is an issue of identity and class that Xiaogang painted in a Social-Realist style. Figures looked like each other but were given small remarks as a symbol of authenticity. People were depicted with slightly larger heads that distorted the symmetry of the body, implying big the head got from all the thoughts and unspoken opinions. The tension that lingers in his portraits metaphorically produces emotional disturbance, where the straight-back, wide-eyed persons try to communicate the struggle of the social pressure to fit in.

The artist paints the environmental transformations of everyday life in China

Zhang Xiaogang - Heaven No.3. 2010
Zhang Xiaogang – Heaven No.3. 2010

Environmental Transformations

Fallen in the hands of unfortunate destiny, he used every single change in his life to dive into introspection. What this artist lived through can be described as enrollment in an unmerciful school of life, where the student has to learn a lesson and stay out of trouble. He went through many jobs, from teaching to working as a construction worker, but his spirit never gave up. He was, and still is, exploring the profound philosophy of individualism, of western philosophy and cultural ideology. These topics served as inspiration for his series of family portraits. After his trip to Germany in 1992, he gained a new perspective on Chinese collectivism and saw the absolute unique characters of his nation, where they unselfishly rely on each other for help, consolation and comfort, like one big family. Socialism and the relationship between culture in the city, and in rural areas, still serve as inspiration for him, as he quite often paints the environmental transformations and microevolution of everyday life in China.

The artist is represented by Weng Contemporary Gallery.

Zhang Xiaogang lives and works in Bejing.

All images used for illustrative purpose only © Zhang Xiaogang

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2013Voyage and Awakening FAAM - Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, FukuokaGroup
2012Future Pass National Taiwan Museum of Art, TaichungGroup
201239 Steps up the Corridor Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong, SARGroup
2012Future Pass World Exhibition Today Art Museum, BeijingGroup
2011Future Pass Wereldmuseum, RotterdamGroup
2011Burning, Bright: A Short History of the Light Bulb The Pace Gallery - 545 West 22nd Street, New York City, NYGroup
2011Rising 34FineArt, Cape TownGroup
2011Chapelle vidéo #1 musée d´art et d´histoire, Saint-DenisGroup
2011Future Pass-from Asia to the World - Collateral event of the 54th Venice Biennale Abbazia di San Gregorio, VeniceGroup
2011Portal: Contemporary Chinese Paintings, Prints, Photographs and Sculpture ArtSpace-Virginia Miller Galleries, Coral Gables (Miami), FLGroup
201016:9 - Zhang Xiaogang Today Art Museum, BeijingSolo
2010Beijing-Havana - New Revolution art Contemporary Art National Art Museum of Cuba, Havana, CubaGroup
2010Reshaping History - Chinart from 2000 to 2009China National Convention Center, Beijing, ChinaGroup
2010Clouds - Power of Asian Contemporary Art Soka Art Center, Beijing, ChinaGroup
2010The Offical Opening of Minsheng Art Museum Thirsty Years of Chinese Contemporary Art Minsheng Art Museum, ShanghaiGroup
2010Recycling of the classic limited edition art famous Carnival - Gallery Yang, BeijingGroup
2010Behind the Mask The New Art Gallery Walsall, Walsall, West Midlands (England) Group
2010Clouds:Power of Asian Contemporary Art Soka Art Center - Beijing, BeijingGroup
2010Thirty Years of Chinese Contemporary Art Minsheng Art Museum, ShanghaiGroup
200919 Games-A Chinese Contemporary Art Exhibition T Art Centre, Beijing, ChinaGroup
2009A Gift to Marco Polo Venice International University, Venice, ItalyGroup
2009Zhang Xiaogang: The Records Pace Beijing, ChinaGroup
2009The History of Self-reflection Yunnan Provincial Museum, ChinaGroup
2009Zhang Xiaogang: Shadow in the Soul Queensland Art Gallery, Queensland AustraliaSolo
2009Venice Biennale, Venice, ItalyGroup
2009INAMANIA exhibition Akon Museum of Art, Copenhagen, DenmarkGroup
2008Writing on the Wall: Chinese New Realism and Avant-Garde in Eighties and Nineties Groningen Museum, Groningen, The NetherlandsGroup
2008Case Studies of Artists in Art History and Art Criticism SZ Art Center, Beijing, China Group
2008Our Future: The Guy & Myriam Ullens Foundation Collection Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, ChinaGroup
2008Revision Pace Wildenstein, New York, NY Solo
2008Avant-Garde China: Twenty Years of Chinese Contemporary Art Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo, JapanGroup
2008Facing the Reality: Chinese Contemporary Art National Art Museum of China, Beijing, ChinaGroup
2007From Southeast Guangdong Museum of Fine Art, Guangzhou, ChinaGroup
2007From New Figurative Image to New Painting Tang Contemporary Art, Beijing, ChinaGroup
2007Black White Gray – A Conscious Cultural Stance Today Art Museum, Beijing, ChinaGroup
2007Zhang Xiaogang Sara Hilden Art Museum, Tampere, FinlandGroup
2007Facing Reality exhibition National Art Museum of China at Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludvig in Vienna, AustriaGroup
200785 New Wave: The Birth of Chinese Contemporary Art UCCA Beijing, Beijing, ChinaGroup
2006Home, Solo Show Beijing Commune, Beijing, ChinaSolo
2006Amnesia and Memory Gallery Artside, Seoul, South KoreaGroup
2006The Blossoming of Realism – The Oil Painting from Mainland China since 1978 Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, ChinaGroup
2006China Now: Fascination of a Changing World SAMMLUNG ESSL Museum, Vienna, AustriaGroup
2006Reinventing Books in Chinese Contemporary Art China Institute, New York, NYGroup
2006Jiang Hu – Chinese Contemporary Art European and American Traveling Exhibition Tilton Gallery, New York, NYGroup
2006Food and Desire South Silk Restaurant, Beijing, ChinaGroup
2006Zhang Xiaogang Exhibition The Art Centre of Tokyo, JapanSolo
2005The Game of Realism Beijing Commune, Beijing, ChinaGroup
2005Zhang Xiaogang 2005 Max Protetch Gallery, New York, NY Solo
2004Umbilical Cord of History Paintings by Zhang Xiaogang Hong Kong Art Center, Hong Kong, ChinaGroup
2004China, the Body Everywhere? Museum of Contemporary Art Marseilles, Marseilles, FranceGroup
2004Shanghai Biennial Shanghai Art Museum, Shanghai, ChinaGroup
2003From China with Art National Gallery Jakarta, IndonesianGroup
2003Forget and Remember Gallery of France, Paris, FranceGroup
2002The First Guangzhou Triennial Guangdong Art Museum, ChinaGroup
2002Babel 2002 National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul, KoreaGroup
2001Hot Pot-Chinese Contemporary Art Artist Center of Oslo, NorwayGroup
2001The III Mercosul Bienal Porto Alegre, BrazilGroup
2000MAN + SPACE Kwangju Biennale 2000 Kwangju, KoreaGroup
2000Messengers of the Heart, Centre de l'art contemporain de lycée X. Bernard Rouillé, FranceGroup
2000Zhang Xiaogang 2000 Gallery of Max Protetch, New York, NYGroup
1999Inside Out: New Chinese Art Asia Society and P.S.1. Contemporary Art Center, New York, NY Modern Art Museum of San Francisco, CAGroup
1999New Modernisme for a New Millenium: Works by Contemporary Asian Artists from the Logan Collection San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Group
1999Les Camarades, Galerie de France ParisGroup
1998China New Art, Helsinki Art Museum Helsinki, FinlandGroup
1998Bloodline: The Big Family 1998 Hanart Gallery, Taipei, ChinaSolo
1997The Faces and Bodies from Middle Kingdom Prague Art Museum Prague, Czech RepublicGroup
1997Bloodline: The Big Family Gallery of The Central Academy of Fine Arts Beijing, Beijing, ChinaGroup
1995Venice Biennal, Venice, ItalyGroup
1993China's New Art, Post - 1989 Hong Kong Art Center Hong KongGroup
1992Documents of China Contemporary Art Show travelling exhib, Beijing, Guangzhou, Chongqing, Shenyang, ShanghaiGroup
1991I Don't Want to Play Cards with Cézanne and Other Works, Selection from t, Pacific Asia Museum Pasadena, CAGroup
1989China Avant-Garde National Art Gallery Beijing, Beijing, ChinaGroup
1989Lost Dreams Gallery of the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts, Chongqing, ChinaSolo