• Post-War and Contemporary Art  auction at Christies

    Sale 7835

    Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Auction

    12 February 2010, London, King Street

  • Lot 256

    ZHANG HUAN (B. 1965)

    SMOKE

    Price Realised  

    ZHANG HUAN (B. 1965)
    SMOKE
    ASH ON LINEN
    98 3/8 X 157½IN. (250 X 400CM.)
    PAINTED IN 2007


    Contact Client Service
    • info@christies.com

    • New York +1 212 636 2000

    • London +44 (0)20 7839 9060

    • Hong Kong +852 2760 1766

    • Shanghai +86 21 6355 1766

    Contact the department


    IN 2005 ZHANG HUAN MOVED BACK TO HIS NATIVE CHINA AFTER SEVERAL YEARS LIVING AND WORKING IN NEW YORK. THIS MOVE COINCIDED WITH A MAJOR SHIFT IN HIS ARTISTIC ENTERPRISE; HAVING CARVED OUT HIS REPUTATION AS A PERFORMANCE ARTIST, AND THEN FURTHER ENHANCED THAT REPUTATION WITH HIS PHOTOGRAPHIC-BASED WORKS (OFTEN RELICS OF HIS PERFORMANCES), THE FOCUS OF ZHANG HUAN'S PRACTICE BECAME OBJECT-BASED MEDIA. THE ARTIST IMMERSED HIMSELF IN THE VARIETY OF FORMAL CHALLENGES POSED BY THE GLOBAL TRADITIONS OF PAINTING, SCULPTURE AND PRINTMAKING. HIS MOST CELEBRATED SERIES OF WORKS TO EMERGE FROM THIS NEW FOCUS ARE HIS ASH PAINTINGS AND ASH SCULPTURES, WHICH HAVE BEEN SHOWN IN A NUMBER OF MUSEUM EXHIBITIONS OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS.

    THE ASH PAINTINGS POWERFULLY SUM UP ZHANG HUAN'S CONFLATION OF SEVERAL DISCIPLINES AND TRADITIONS WHILST STILL RECALLING ASPECTS OF HIS PERFORMANCE-BASED ACTIVITIES. IN THE FIRST INSTANCE THESE ARE PAINTINGS EXECUTED USING ASH. ANY SENSE OF PAINTERLINESS THAT THESE COMPOSITIONS ACHIEVE REPRESENTS ANOTHER LAYER OF MIMESIS, WHICH THE SERIES OPENLY ENGAGES WITH: WE THINK WE SEE BRUSHSTROKES, BUT WE DO NOT, MUCH IN THE SAME WAY THAT WE THINK WE SEE A CERTAIN IMAGE, BUT, ACTUALLY, WE ARE GUIDED TO AN ALTOGETHER DIFFERENT INDEX. THE ASH IS COLLECTED BY ZHANG HUAN'S STUDIO FROM SEVERAL TEMPLES IN AND AROUND SHANGHAI. THUS, THE VERY MEDIUM ITSELF IS HEAVILY LOADED. THE ASH IS THE EMBERS AND DEBRIS FROM INCENSE STICKS, USED BY VISITORS TO VARIOUS BUDDHIST TEMPLES, AND BURNED AS PART OF THEIR PRAYER RITUALS. AS SUCH, BY USING AS HIS PRINCIPLE MEDIUM A MATERIAL WHICH IS PART OF A RITUAL WHICH HAD, FOR MANY YEARS, BEEN BANNED IN CHINA, ZHANG HUAN ADDS AN INITIAL LAYER OF MEANING WHICH GOVERNS OUR APPRECIATION OF THESE PAINTINGS AND, IMPORTANTLY, THE IMAGES (AND INDICES) HE CONSTRUCTS.

    THE PAINTINGS THEMSELVES ARE EXECUTED ON THE FLOOR. THE INITIAL DESIGN IS DELINEATED IN CHARCOAL AND THEN SECTIONS OF THE CANVAS ARE COVERED WITH RESIN. WHILST WET, THE ASH IS THEN SPRINKLED ON TO THE RESIN-COVERED AREA, WITH THE ARTIST ACHIEVING DEGREES OF MODELLING DEPENDENT UPON THE COLOUR OF THE ASH OR THE COMPLEXITY OF THE DEBRIS THAT THE STUDIO HAS ACCUMULATED. AS SUCH, THERE IS A SCULPTURAL FEEL TO THIS SPECIFIC PRACTICE; AT NO TIME DOES THE ASH-DIPPED BRUSH OR TROWEL TOUCH THE CANVAS. IT IS ABOUT BUILDING UP A SURFACE WITHOUT THE ARTIST EVER PHYSICALLY COMMUNING WITH THE SUPPORT. MOREOVER, THIS SPECIFIC PRACTICE ELICITS COMPARISONS WITH ZHANG HUAN'S PREVIOUS EMPHASIS ON PERFORMANCE; THE ARTIST'S BODY IS CERTAINLY IN THE CANVAS (LIKE POLLOCK WAS WITH HIS DRIP PAINTINGS) GIVEN THE, OFTEN, MONUMENTAL SCALE HE EMPLOYS.

    ZHANG HUAN'S SMOKE IS A SUPERLATIVE EXAMPLE OF THIS CELEBRATED ASH PAINTINGS SERIES. ZHANG HUAN HERE DEPICTS RURAL FARM WORKERS IN THE FIELDS, TILLING THE LAND; THE COMPOSITION PRESENTING ITSELF AS A SERIES OF DIAGONAL LINES PUNCTUATED BY SOFT PLUMES OF SMOKE, CAUSED BY THE WORKERS BURNING OLD CROPS TO RENEW THE SOIL. THE CHOICE OF SUBJECT HERE IS TELLING. SMOKE IS ONE OF ZHANG HUAN'S HISTORICAL SCENES AND THE SOURCE IMAGERY FOR THIS WORK IS PURLOINED FROM VARIOUS ICONOGRAPHIC IMAGES OF CHINESE SOCIALIST REALISM, TAKEN FROM MAGAZINES AND BOOKS, WHICH THE ARTIST HAS COLLECTED. THE FIELD BEING TILLED IS MEANT TO REPRESENT THE HEROIC ACT OF THE COLLECTIVE WORKING TOGETHER, NURTURING THE FERTILE CHINESE LAND, IN THEIR EFFORT TO FEED THE NATION. HOWEVER, IN USING ASH TO DEPICT SUCH A SCENE, COUPLED WITH THE KIEFER-LIKE GRISAILLE PALETTE AND ITS SHADOWY POOLS OF DARKNESS, THE HEROIC NATURE OF THE IMAGE GIVES WAY TO A MORE PROBLEMATIC SET OF MEANINGS, ENGENDERED BY THE JUXTAPOSITION BETWEEN SUBJECT AND MEDIUM. AS NINA MIALL HAS WRITTEN OF THESE WORKS, WHAT WE ARE EVENTUALLY PRESENTED WITH IS 'A CONSCIOUS CREMATION OF THE OFFICIAL HISTORY' (NINA MIALL, "LIKE A PHOENIX RISING: THE ASH WORKS OF ZHANG HUAN" IN EXH. CAT., LONDON, HAUNCH OF VENISON, ZHANG HUAN: ASH, 2007).

    Special Notice

    VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 17.5% on the buyer's premium.


    Provenance

    ACQUIRED DIRECTLY FROM THE ARTIST BY THE PREVIOUS OWNER.