Before his tragic death in 2000 at the age of 45, Chen Zhen (1955 - 2000) was rapidly becoming a rising star in the international art world, having exhibited at the 48th Venice Biennale in 1999, at the First Shanghai Biennial in 1996, and in venues throughout Europe, Asia, and North America.
Based in Paris since 1986, Chen's works playfully engaged the disjunction of cultural differences and expectations between East and West. Chen's formative years were spent under high communism and, like Cai Guo Qiang, Huang Yongping, Xu Bing, and other Chinese artists who have based themselves in the West, he reacts against the cultural ideology of his youth by combining traditional Chinese aesthetics and philosophies with Western art practices. The juxtapositions of such distinct motifs and methods are employed to suggest new creative and ideological paths. His interactive mixed media works were meant to provide what he called a "short circuit" (Chen quoted in E. Hearley, 'Chen Zhen's Legacy', Art in America, Feb 2003), surprising and provocative combinations that suggest new directions for more sustained cross-cultural investigations.
One recurring motif in his work is the search for balance among disparate everyday objects, showing the often paradoxical relationship between the material and the spiritual. Untitled is related to Chen's enormous Jue Chang 50 Strokes to Each, 1998, wherein Chen collected bed frames, chairs, and stools from around the world, turning each into a drum by stretching cured animal skins over the frames. The work combines this anonymous aesthetic of everyday objects, with the warming scent and touch of the animal hides, and the invitation to produce music. Through such humble appropriations, Chen ritualizes the taken-for-granted and invites the viewer to see in our everyday material possessions the possibility of transcendence.