Zhang JianJun, an innovator of contemporary Chinese art, produces paintings, sculptures, performances, and installations that dwell on humanity's existence, transformation, and spirituality.Read More
Zhang JianJun was trained in the fine art department of Shanghai Theatre Academy in the 1970s, majoring in oil painting. His early practice was inspired by the post-Cultural Revolution access he had to Western styles, including classical painting, Impressionism, and Fauvism, through his professor.
In 1979, after a transformative visit to the Dunhuang Grottoes, Zhang JianJun became less interested in Western frameworks and delved into a more Eastern approach and developed a radical aesthetic informed by Buddhism and Daoism as well as calligraphy, seal-carving, and Yinxu culture.
Zhang JianJun's monochrome paintings, which incorporated materials such as stones, pottery fragments, wood, and sand, related to the movement of Rationalistic painting. Rationalistic painting, related to Yi Pai, looked to Chinese ink painting traditions and used its conventional shapes—lines, squares, dots, and circles—to express the relationship between the material and the universe, time, and space.
During this early period including work such as the 'Noumenon (Existence)' series (1983–ongoing, Zhang JianJun refuted any textual explanation of his works, in observance of an Eastern philosophy of interpretation. The inclusion of his abstract paintings in the '83 Experimental Painting exhibition at Fudan University, Shanghai, affirmed his renown in China, even though it was closed down after half a day.
In tandem with his studio practice, between 1986 and 1989 Zhang JianJun was the first assistant director and head of the Art Research Department of the Shanghai Art Museum, during which time he received a fellowship from the Asian Cultural Council to spent time in the United States.
Zhang JianJun's eventual move to the United States enabled by a grant from Asian Cultural Council in 1989 encouraged his practice to expand and include installation and performance art. Works like Scholar Rock (The Mirage Garden) (2008), are concerned with cultural relations, in particular how traditional Chinese culture interacted with the contemporary world during rapid urbanisation.
Zhang JianJun's ink drawings have remained the backbone of his practice, which continues alongside his teaching at New York University's Shanghai campus. Selected group shows include Arts of China: New Acquisitions, Asian Galleries, Brooklyn Museum, New York (2019); Ink Worlds: Contemporary Chinese Painting from the Collection of Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang, Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University, Stanford (2018); Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2013); Portrait of the Times, Power Station of Art, Shanghai (2013); Shanshui, Kunstmuseum Luzern (2011); The Great Celestial Abstraction, National Art Museum of China, Beijing (2010); and A Grain of Dust, A Drop of Water, Gwangju Biennale (2004).
Biography by Cleo Roberts | Ocula | 2020
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