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Some thoughts from Zhang Xiaogang

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Zhang Xiaogang became one of the earliest faces of contemporary Chines art for the Western world. His Bloodline series, a stylised presentation on Mao-era family portraits, was exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1995. Early in his career, Zhang gave away works to friends, and the ones that were sold went for about usd 150. Now his pieces are stars at Auctions demanding millions in USD. A few views from him on his artistic expression, how Chinese artists are perceived in the West and about his legacy.
Q. Are the Bloodline series a critical reflection on the Cultural Revolution?

A. I can never escape from my memories of the Cultural Revolution but my paintings are not criticising the movement. At the time, in the eyes of a 8-year old boy, the revolution was like a long holiday. no school, no homework, and no restrcictions from parents as they were sent away to labour camps. The movement split my family and traumatised all those living through it in some way.

Q. Has the political and social value of Chinese contemporary art developed its importance compared to the West?

A. The presence of Chinese contemporary art was first recognised by the world for its difference, in terms of both the artistic and content from Western art. The side effect of such recognition is curators only select art pieces that fit that angle. Things have changed in the past decade and now Chinese artists are treated distinct individuals.

Q. You often use simple symbols from the 1960’s as in the Bloodline series, like the little red book?

A. Over the last decade I am playing with symbols of the 80’s like a flash lamp, a book, a notebook or a bed. The 80’s was a fast developing era and it was also a poetic era where people were lining up to get a book and get hopes for a more beautiful world.

Q. Some Chinese artists questioned the past. but keep repeating themselves so the public has had enough?

A. Those who explored this theme in the 1990’s did it for art and self-reflection. It is natural that people would follow and imitate when something groundbreaking makes its presence felt. But followers than also destroy a theme. The theme from the Cultural Revolution is overdone but sometimes an artist continue with a theme because curators and collectors want it.

Q. What is the value of certain works when the social events they relate to become history?

A. There is a group of artists who are more directly involved in social events, whereas artists like myself have our eyes on museums and art history. Regardless of their motivation, their works are meaningful if you look at what they have led in society. There is no point in defining what is a piece of art. it’s just a matter of if you like it or not.

Source: Andrea Chen from South China morning Post.

Daniel Brostrom