Bloodline: Big Family Series

Bloodline: Big Family Series
signed in Chinese; dated 2004 (lower right)
oil on canvas
120 x 150.2 cm. (47 1/4 x 59 1/8 in.)
Painted in 2004
Acquired directly from the artist
Private Collection, Beijing, China
Private Collection, New York, USA

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Lot Essay

The historical incident in June 1989 served as a tremendous critical point in Zhang Xiaogang's artistic trajectory. The incident not only aroused in him a strong sense of hopelessness but also the idea of social responsibility. Zhang realized that his artistic language was inadequate in leading the public to face the challenges in China. Thus, he started travelling in Europe since the 1990s and visited various museums in the West. Through a direct encounter with the artworks, he experienced a spiritual connection with the artists as a viewer, refining in him an epochal spirit that belonged to China and his generation - Bloodline: Big Family Series.

Based on aging family photographs, the artist allegorises them as metaphors of himself and the history of his country. Time and experience in the past lingered and became an inspiration to the artist.

"I pursue the effect of 'pseudo photograph' to further beautify the history and life that have already been 'already beautified'."

- Zhang Xiaogang

This work shifts away from the primitivism evident in his early works and manages to present a transformation of direct photography, enabling a higher level of formalism and greater reverberation on culture and history in his composition. With a rich meaning in this series, Zhang successfully infuses his personal perspectives and current phenomenon in China that make it a masterpiece in his artistic journey, as well as the most recognisable and iconic presentation.

In Bloodline: Big Family Series (Lot 41), the artist imitates the effect of black and white photography and fills the entire composition with three figures with identical facial features. They sit upright against the studio background, and with vacant looks on their faces. The canvas permeates an overall feeling of tranquility. Other details of the painting articulate a toned down emotionality, while their moistened eyes reflect a blank visual without any focus and direction.
The wide gap between rich and poor became increasingly evident after these tremendous societal changes in China after 2000. The discontent of working class began to spread over the country. "Change your destiny" and "become outstanding" were the missions of every child. With the side effect of "core economic development", it turned a new page to the social phenomenon of families in China.

Standard outfits and style were personalized, but the "standard" value (getting rich) of society became an invisible shackle to constrain the spirits of Chinese people. Everyone dreamed for fortune and became anxious and impatient. The frenzied desire for material gain became a morbidity that spread among the society. Young people were tired and exhausted from achieving their goals and had no time to take care of their parents. Perhaps the simplest way to resolve the contradiction is to escape.

The morose and sentimental spiritual history was deducted from some pseudo photograph. The people understand the feelings of the artists and want him to continually recount the more complicated relationships and hidden feelings

---The Spiritual History of Depression and Sentiment, Lui Pang 2006

Bloodline: Big Family Series inherits the calm facial expressions similar to his earlier works. With a new social background, such expression is a new interpretation of the artist towards the complicated emotion of tiredness, helplessness, numbness, anxiety and vagueness. The morbidity of Individual family forms a new syndrome in Chinese society. Zhang said, "The facial expressions of these figures are tranquil as water, but there is tempestuous emotions underneath. In this conflicting situation, the ambiguity in destiny passes on generation after generation".

Bloodline: Big Family Series, the artist reveals the relationship and sentiment of two different generations setting them in a static space to fill the composition. The son is painted in a symbolic red to represent the happiness, fortune and health from the family. However, such palette also suggests rebellion and protest against society. Although the rapid development in China brings wealth to the people, it also creates a generation gap between different ages of people. Zhang always intensifies the figures in his works to explain the collective phenomenon in the society. With a thorough study of the theme in Bloodline: Big Family, the artist encourages deliberations of viewers in an almost religious way. The artist finds salvation through his artistic expression.

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