Zhang Xiaogang (b. 1958)
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Zhang Xiaogang (b. 1958)

Forget and Remember

Zhang Xiaogang (b. 1958)
Forget and Remember
signed in Chinese and dated '2003.4' (lower right)
oil on canvas
78¾ x 102½in. (200 x 260cm.)
Painted in 2003
Galerie de France, Paris (ZXD52).
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Special notice
VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 15% on the buyer's premium

Lot Essay

From the beginning, Zhang Xiaogang's primary interest as an artist has been the inter-relation between memory, experience, and history. In a career spanning three decades, Zhang has sought different avenues to generate a visual language that can capture both the personal and subjective as well as the collective. In his earliest works, Zhang was fascinated by the minority populations of China's remote Western regions, entire populations who seemed to have been forgotten by the project of Chinese modernity. It was in these populations that Zhang imagined a native spirit and ethnic identity untouched by the traumas and vagaries of history. As Zhang's meditation on history and memory deepened, his works became more personal, romantic and tragic. His paintings of the late 1980s and early 1990s were full of allegorical and surrealist images that seemed to express universal themes of loss and desire.
Throughout, Zhang has returned time and again to the contradictory relationship between memory and forgetting. For Zhang, on the one hand, our cumulative history of experiences inevitably informs our personality, interactions and fundamental capacity for society. At the same time, the majority of our experiences are forgotten, and it is precisely this and our ability to forget or suppress specific memories that allows us to live with others and ourselves.
By the 1990s, this concern, coupled with Zhang's interest in portraiture, gave rise to his iconic A Big Family Series, also known as the Bloodlines Series. These paintings, drawn from Cultural Revolution era family photographs, depicted families dressed in the drab uniform of the day, simultaneously documenting their precarious ties to each other as a family and the urge to disappear under a collective ideal. These images spoke to a collective pain readily available in popular consciousness but not commonly given public expression.
In 2002 and 2003, Zhang began a unique series of paintings under the theme of Forget and Remember. In these works, Zhang separates his individual "comrades" from the formulaic photo-studio setting and, in a heightened realist-surrealist manner, explores their individual subjective states. In this monumental example, Forget and Remember No. 2 from 2003, a boy's head is turned on his side, as if asleep. The composition affords the viewer an extreme close-up of the boy's features. We have no view of the context of this scene, and can only find clues by reading the minimal cues in the boy's face. While the extremities of his features begin to blur, his eyes are dark, full and focused. His expression is serene and placid. The only hint of emotion can be found in these eyes, which are deep and liquid, as if just beginning to tear. On his chin is a pink patch of skin, for the artist symbolic of an original trauma that the subject will always bear. An adolescent himself during the Cultural Revolution, Zhang's series of young male figures appear at once innocent, vulnerable, and wizened beyond their years, no doubt as witnesses to events beyond their control. After years of experimentation, here Zhang uses the bear minimum of elements to create a subtle and poignant representation of the subjective experiences of his generation and the scars underlying daily existence in contemporary China.

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