Zhao Zhao

China 1982

Installation, Sculpture, Conceptual Art, Painting

Zhao Zhao
Zhao Zhao
May 14, 2015
Alias of Jasmina Sevic, a researcher and author for Widewalls. She graduated from the Faculty of Political Science (Department for Journalism) in Belgrade in 2013.

Zhao Zhao is a very bold and innovative Chinese conceptual artist born in 1982, in Xinjiang. In his paintings, sculptures and videos Zhao address realities in China, as well as documenting his life and lives of people close to him. He earned his BFA from the Xinjiang Institute of Arts, Department of Oil Painting in 2004.

Zhao Zhao and Ai Weiwei

After graduating, Zhao worked for seven years as an assistant for Ai Weiwei, the well-known artist and activist who was imprisoned for 81 days in 2011. Ai Weiwei persuaded Zhao to set aside oil painting and instead assist him with conceptual and documentary projects. Although of different generations, both of them had grown up in Shihezi, a city in western China’s Gobi Desert dominated by the paramilitary farming and development corps known as the “bingtuan”.

Social Critical Oeuvre

Working for Ai Weiwei, Zhao Zhao soon discovered performance as a medium aptly suited to expressing his concerns. In addition to create social critical art works, Zhao transforms public events into personal and individual ones. He uses art to engage people and trigger direct reactions and processes that heighten self-consciousness. Playfully and provocatively, Zhao questions art as an established system – a stance with a particular poignancy in the context of the Chinese market. His pieces are often inspired by serendipity, evoking art history allusions, or presenting classic parables of socio-political events.


Zhao played a large role in Ai’s studio, helping him, but at the same time he built up an important body of his own work. He took the Ai’s advice to create works using the materials that surrounded him and began to appropriate small objects around him into his pieces.
In 2007 he realized the site-specific performative installation Cobblestone, in which he glued a tiny stone on the ground of Tiananmen Square, causing passersby to stumble. The scale of a small stone and large city square in the centre of Beijing in comparison with each other leaves a powerful impression on viewers. In that way, Zhao demonstrates against the control of Chinese government in Tiananmen Square which embodies the authority of Chinese government, as well as against the restrictions in contemporary China.

Zhao Zhao - Cobblestone, 2007, installation, performance
Zhao Zhao – Cobblestone, 2007

Zhao’s video Happening

At the same time Zhao filmed a video titled Happening. It was made during one night when he was walking around with a camera. People who saw him thought he was a secret police agent and throw stones at him. Zhao get to the police station and, as nobody was there, he took the police caps and put it on his head. He filmed everything expressing through video his dissatisfaction with the pressure created by the Chinese government.


In 2008 Zhao had his first solo show at the China Art Archives and Warehouse. Show was well visited and he was invited to participate in group exhibitions increasingly often. During 2010, Zhao participated in more than 30 group shows. Zhao’s second solo show was held at the Alexander Ochs Gallery in Berlin in 2011 and featured dozens of scattered, independent oil paintings.
Ai Weiwei was arrested in 2011, but Zhao Zhao was not discouraged, and continued to work. Soon after Ai was released, Zhao showed new pieces at Chambers Fine Art in Beijing, including a limestone statue of a Chinese police officer. More than eight meters tall Officer whose badge number corresponds to the date of Ai’s arrest was displayed knocked down, lying in pieces on the ground.

Installation view of a broken officer sculpture by Zhao Zhao at Chambers Fine Art in New York 2011
Installation view of a broken officer sculpture by Zhao Zhao at Chambers Fine Art, 2011

The State Harassment

Like Ai Weiwei, Zhao Zhao has become a target of the same state security apparatus. In 2012, Zhao was supposed to have a major solo exhibition in New York, at a gallery owned by Christophe Mao, an art dealer active in both Beijing and New York. Zhao packed up a large number of his works to be shipped by sea but customs police confiscated it at the port in Tianjin. The same year, he was held in investigative custody for 12 days by the Chinese government, without any official explanation.
Regardless of the fact that he has experienced the persecution at the hands of the Chinese government—arrest, travel bans, confiscation of artwork, Zhao Zhao continues to questions the role of authority in China through his conceptual art.

Zhao Zhao currently lives and works in Beijing, China.

YearName of the exhibitionMuseum/GallerySolo/Group
2015Zhao Zhao: OmnipresentRoberts&Tilton, California, USASolo
2014Zhao Zhao: UncertaintyChambers Fine Art, Beijing, ChinaSolo
2014Zero ToleranceMoMA PS1, Long Island City, USAGroup
2014My Generation: Young Chinese ArtistsTampa Museum of Art, Florida, USAGroup
2014Time is a Saw: Established and Emerging Contemporary Chinese ArtistsCrossman Gallery, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Wisconsin, USAGroup
201419th Biennale of SydneySydney, AustraliaGroup
2014The Armory Show 2014, China: FocusChambers Fine Art, Pier 94, New York Group
2013Zhao Zhao: ConstellationsChambers Fine Art, New York, USASolo
2013On|Off: China’s Young Artists in Concept and PracticeUllens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, ChinaGroup
2012Nothing InsideAlexander Ochs Gallery, Beijing, ChinaSolo
2011According to Zhao Zhao: New WorksChambers Fine Art, Beijing, ChinaSolo
2011Walking NakedAlexander Ochs Galleries, Berlin, GermanySolo
2011Catching the Moon in the WaterJames Cohen, New York, USAGroup
20115 x 5 Castello 11, Premi International d'art contemporani Diputacio de CastelloCastello, SpainGroup
20111 x 1: A Cross-strait-four-regions, Artistic Exchange ProjectHe Xiangning Museum, Shenzhen, ChinaGroup
2011Freestyle Li SpaceBejing, ChinaGroup
201151 m2: 16 Emerging Chinese ArtistTai Kang Space, Beijing, China Group
2010Reflection of MindsMoCA Shanghai Envisage III, Shanghai, ChinaGroup
2010Conception as EnzymeA4 Gallery, Chengdu, China Group
2010Sharism, Get it Louder 2010Beijing, ChinaGroup
20103 + X, Kunsthalle LophemCenter for Contemporary Art, Lophem, BelgiumGroup
2010No-Name Station-China, Australia Contemporary Art ExhibitionIberia Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, ChinaGroup
2010Interpret Out of ContextT Space, Beijing, ChinaGroup
2010Moving!Li Space, Beijing, ChinaGroup
2010The Burden of RepresentationOsage Gallery, Hongkong, Group
2010Also SpaceC Space, Beijing, ChinaGroup
2010ArchivesOsage Gallery, Hongkong, Group
20095113, 51 Square Meters ProjectTaikang Space, Beijing, ChinaSolo
2009Art Economies Beyond Pattern RecognitionOsage Gallery, Shanghai, ChinaGroup
2009Personal Space24 HR Art-Northern Territory Contemporary Art Centre, Darwin, AustraliaGroup
2009Work in Progress - How Do Artists WorkIberia Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, ChinaGroup
2008Da Quan GouChina Art Archives and Wavehouse (CAAW), Beijing, ChinaSolo
2008Delirious BeijingPKM Gallery, Beijing, ChinaGroup
2008Insomnia Bizart Art Center, Shanghai, ChinaGroup
2008Landscape TopologyMagee Art Gallery, Beijing, ChinaGroup
2008Chinese FreedomT Space, Beijing, ChinaGroup