ZhangHuanwas born in 1965 in Anyang, HenanProvince, China.He is a multidisciplinary artist at the forefront of avant-garde art. Zhang first gained local and international recognition for his provocative performance art in the 1990s, which he credits for giving him the ability to boldly experiment with other art forms now. Constantly innovating, he has developed new techniques to create his signature “ash paintings”, carved Chinese “memory doors”, cowhide sculptures, and feather-embellished woodcuts, among other pieces. Zhang is also known for his large-scale public art installations. The artist constantly pushes the boundaries of contemporary art and continues to expand his artistic repertoire. He acted as Director and Set Designer of the opera Semele, which debuted in Brussels in 2009 before traveling to Beijing, Toronto, and New York.
As a member of the Beijing East Village art collective in the early ’90s, Zhang carried out subversive performance art pieces that pushed the limits of his body and mental strength. One of his most well-known performances was 12 Square Meters(1994), where he covered himself in fish oil and honey and sat on a public toilet, attracting a multitude of flies and other insects. The act shed light on the squalor conditions of his community and demonstrated human endurance in the face of poor conditions.
The artist moved to New York in 1998, where he continued to develop his performance art. His years living in a foreign environment helped him to embrace his individuality and hone his critical thinking. Zhang returned to China in 2005 and began to explore other mediums, as he did not wish to repeat himself. He settled in Shanghai, where he still lives and works today, and established a large studio complex in 2006 in a former factory.
After an eye-opening trip to Tibet, Zhang’s works began to more strongly reference Buddhism. He views art as a way for artists to reconnect with their spirituality. Zhang’s ash paintings that depict various subject matters such as historic scenes, portraits, and animals are created using different shades of incense ash collected from Buddhist temples. The artist believes the ash carries the collective memories of those who burned the incense. Zhang has also created a series of sculptures that were inspired by fragments of Buddha sculptures he came across in his travels. In 2010, Zhang’s 15-ton coppersculpture Three Heads Six Arms(800 x 1800 x 1000 cm) made its world premiere in San Francisco and was later exhibited outside 1881 Heritage in Hong Kong.
Among other places, Zhang’s works have been exhibited atthe 48th Venice Biennale; the 2002 Whitney Biennial;the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the MOMA, and the Guggenheim Museum in New York; Akademie der Künste in Berlin; the Shanghai Art Museum; and the Today Art Museum in Beijing.
His works are also in the public collectionsof Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, the M+ Sigg Collection in Hong Kong, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, among other prestigious institutions.