2010 Zeng Fanzhi

The single work in oil by the entrance of gallery provides the opening sonata of this symphony. It is a painting that creates a huge visual impact: the massive body of a just-slaughtered bull lies flayed and still bleeding.

Art Exhibition previously on at Rockbund Art Museum in China.
From Tuesday 10 August 2010 to Tuesday 12 October 2010

Monkey image This Land so Rich in Beauty image Covered Lamb image Untitled 10-7-5 image Untitled image Mammoth's Tusks image Untitled image

Published by anonymous on Thursday 23 October 2014.
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The rapid and unruly brushwork reveal the artist’s agitation and absorption. This prelude work serves two purposes here: first, creating suspense and firing visitors’ interest and imagination for what they are about to see inside the exhibition; and second – since in terms of image and concept the painting recalls Zeng’s earlier works, in particular the ‘Meat Series’ (1992) and ‘Human Being and Meat’ (1993) – establishing a dialogue across time and space, implicitly suggesting the historic dimension of this exhibition.

Following the staircase beside this painting on up to the second and third floors, the works in oil displayed here continue to be in the painterly medium, but as we shift through space they come to constitute two groupings, each with its particular content and visual logic. Two ten-meter canvases span the entire width of the gallery’s second floor, to date the largest paintings the artist has created; these can be viewed as the first movement of the symphony that is this exhibition. In both paintings random brush strokes depict an abstract landscape – or more accurately, the image of a landscape that is in the artist’s mind. The two paintings here show wildernesses scorched by wildfire on canvases extended widthwise to the very limit. Withered tree branches contorting skyward create a screen across the foreground. Beyond, white-hot flames leap and play, leaving dull-red coals shimmering in the deep places of the dense thicket. But it is the different primary hues of the two works — one all silver gray, the other in reds, yellows, blues and greens — that create such a powerful contrast between them, and each expresses a quite different creative concept. Hung across from each other, viewers are compelled to study the detail in the works. This is the traditional way of appreciating scroll paintings and also how these two works were hung in the artist’s studio while he created them. Stood between them, as you contemplate one work you lose sight of the other.

The oil paintings on the third floor continue the mode of landscape rendered in unruly strokes but now a new theme appears – creatures – and this theme continues in the works on show on the fourth and fifth floors. In the paintings on the third floor, the animals appear behind the screen of convoluted tree branches, often staring directly at the viewer as if they have something they wish to tell us. Amid the sullen desolation their sorrowful eyes seem to reveal loneliness and despair. This gloomy mood is seen still more clearly in the works on show on the fourth floor. Two giant mammoth tusks hang from the ceiling, the absent body suggestive of the tragedy of these great beasts that in prehistoric times roamed our earth but are now long extinct. A collection of woodcarvings depict animal remains covered with felt. The flowing folds of the felt resemble the brushwork of some master of old, the embodiment of serene beauty and solemnity and hence serving to further emphasize the sorrow and cruelty concealed beneath. The woodcarvings – including the two mammoth tusks – have been crafted using traditional lacquering techniques. After meticulous painting and polishing, the carved surface has a texture as smooth as ancient ivory, suggestive of accumulated time and the depositions of history. Finally, displayed on the top floor of the gallery are Zeng’s copperplate etchings and pencil sketches. Replicating the twin themes of landscapes of intertwined strokes and animals, these smaller works show the artist progressing to a more personal take on his subject matter.

Thinking back over the works on the third through fifth galleries with animals as their theme, we find they form an aggregate that transcends their various media and styles, like a musical movement played with rich instrumentation and variety of sound. These works include Zeng’s first-ever works in sculpture and copperplate etching, revealing a new dimension to his artistic endeavor. Blending imagery of animals and figurative evocations of ‘death’ and ‘remains’, these pieces are both a reflection of the artist’s ongoing contemplation of the relationship between Man and Nature and also an interaction with the development over time of the venue itself. The Rockbund Art Museum building occupies what was originally the Royal Asiatic Society Building, then also known as the Shanghai Museum, which a century ago was famous for its collection of animal specimens.

In this light we are able to understand the message of the final piece shown in this exhibition, an installation work in a nearby church, which constitutes the final movement of our symphony. By utilizing the narrow vertical windows that line the old Union Church building, Zeng has created a multiplicity of luminescent virtual stained glass mosaics, transforming the church into a wonderland of light and shadow. Here, the only sculpture on display on this site – one depicting cloth-covered, ‘hidden’ Virgin Mary and Christ – provides a focus for the entire space; gloom and depression give way to something imposing and sublime; auguries of death are ultimately transformed into a presage of hope.