(B. 1958)
Community Office
signed in Chinese; dated '2006' (lower right)
oil on canvas
260 x 200 cm. (102 3/8 x 78 3/4 in.)
Painted in 2006
Gallery Artside, Zhang Xiaogang- Amnesia and Memory, exh. cat., Seoul, Korea, 2006 (illustrated, p. 43).
Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House, Chinese Contemporary Art Document, China, 2006 (illustrated, p. 491).
Seoul, Korea, Gallery Artside, Zhang Xiaogang- Amnesia and Memory, 1-20 November 2006.

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Lot Essay

As one of the leading members of the Chinese avant-garde, in the 1990s Zhang Xiaogang quickly became a staple of the international art world through his singular poetic vision and iconic Bloodline: Big Family Series. With this series, Zhang appropriated the format of formal family portrait photography, transforming them into poignant and haunting paintings, reaching back into the images and memories of the Cultural Revolution in order to explore the psychological character of his generation.

In his post-Bloodline work, Zhang breaks the formality of his earlier works but continues to explore the unconscious workings of memory through Photo-Realist images of mysterious dreamscapes. These paintings in many ways represent an extension and deepening of Zhang's earliest works, dwelling on haunting and lonely images of loss, full of unexplained, sometimes ominous symbols. From the beginning, with a Proustian sensitivity to memory and experience, Zhang's interpretation of his contemporary reality is one that is constantly informed by revelations of the past, what he has in other contexts referred to as "memory and amnesia." As such, his more recent explorations continue the core themes of his earliest works, rendering them at once more personal and more universal.

In this monumental canvas painted in 2006, Zhang offers the image of an anonymous bureaucratic community office, one of the ubiquitous institutions of the Communist-era. It is set in a grey and harsh landscape, with a lonesome flag atop its roof, an ominous loudspeaker in the foreground, suggesting the building's brutal indifference to its environment. The composition is painted in a soft range of grays, and once again Zhang employs a symbolic and mysterious use of color. A shaft of yellow light envelops the building. Unlike its use in the "Bloodline" series, the light appears to be literal, material part of the composition, as if like a shocking probe of light into darkness, like a police spotlight in search of a criminal.

The twentieth century was one of enormous political upheaval, and an artistic investigations into the monuments of past political regimes and wars is not unusual in the field of contemporary art. A similar interest can be found in the works of Anselm Kiefer, who has pursued the controversial subjects of the Nazi regime, coupled with a deliberately destructive aesthetic, to explore the ways in which the legacy of the war continue to haunt contemporary life, as with his work, 'To The Unknown Painter'. Keifer's is still a fundamentally modernist project, foregrounding the hand of the artist, implicitly asserting the martyrdom of the artist as equivalent to that of the unknown soldier. Zhang's project is subtly distinct. Unlike his early foray into a similar subject with his 1993 Tian'anmen Square paintings, here Zhang deliberately minimizes the painterly aspects of his practice. The surface is sheer, and the image almost shimmers with the elusive ephemerality of a dream. Regarding his palette of choice, he has said, "Grey gives people the sense of being unrelated to reality, a feeling of the past. Grey represents my personal emotions and it is connected to my own temperament It is a forgetful feeling that can also evoke a sense of dreaming" (Z. Xiaogang, quoted in J. Fineberg, Revision:Zhang Xiaogang, New York, 2008, p. 16). As such, it is not a work that seeks to condemn or judge the past, but rather to allow for the free play of memory and association in the intersection between his images and the viewer's own memory. While Zhang's early investigation into the imagery and impact of the Cultural Revolution had obvious political overtones, it becomes clear that his most profound contribution to contemporary Chinese art is his implicit assumption that the subjective experience is historically relevant, worthy of the grand treatment he gives it in his solemn, monumental images.

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