Today I went to the Art Gallery of Ontario, just in time on the last day of the excellent exhibition by Chinese artist Zhang Huan: Ash Paintings and Memory Doors.
I had been told it was an impressive show, and it really was. Not only were the enormous works strong in terms of technique, subject matter and concept, but they were expertly installed. One wall-length piece was beautifully backlit. I wanted to tell all the people lining up for the Picasso exhibition to make sure to stop by Zhang Huan’s show too.
The entire exhibition was black and white. The large paintings made of ash, which is collected from temples in China and separated into shades of grey at the artists’s studio before being applied to the canvas, have echoes of Richter, particularly in that some are based on newspaper articles put out during the Cultural Revolution. Many of the images appear to have been authentic but were, in fact, carefully staged photographs.
The Memory Doors are enormous wooden doors that have been covered with photographic prints in parts, and – in a continuation of the same image – carved by hand in others. It’s an effective way of bringing together the ‘eye’ of the state with the hand of the people, much the way that Ai Wei Wei’s hand made porcelain sunflower seeds did. The use of material, including what appear to be sticks, or nails, in one large piece, the grey palette and the very large scale, bring to mind Anselm Kiefer‘s work, too. And oddly, the work of the amazing Spanish artist Miguel Barcelo (one of my long-time favourites.)
Toronto is lucky to have had this exhibition, and lucky that Zhang Huan also made an impressive public artwork at the base of the new Shangri-La Hotel. Here’s a photo I took one night when it was being installed, back in March. And HERE is what it looks like now.
If you missed the exhibition, I suggest you look up Zhang Huan’s work. Surely he’s one of the artists producing China’s most interesting, refined artwork today.