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b. 1957, China

Zhang Peili Biography

Credited by some as the father of video art in China, Zhang Peili also works with digital media, as well as painting, sculpture, and installation, often exploring image construction in the media and our perceptions of reality.

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Born in 1957 in Hangzhou, Zhang received an MFA in oil painting from the city's Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts—now China Academy of Art—in 1984. His early work 'X?' (1986–1987) is a series of photorealistic oil paintings depicting subject matter, such as latex gloves, which references the artist's childhood memories of poor health and his parent's employment at a children's hospital. In 1986, Zhang co-founded, with fellow artists Geng Jianyi and Song Lin, the Pond Society, which orchestrated public happenings and interventions in Hangzhou with a mission to broaden the definition of art.

Zhang is also closely associated with the '85 New Wave Movement, an avantgarde school that flourished in China between 1985 and 1989. At the 1988 Huangshan Conference—the historic symposium that led to the China/Avant-Garde exhibition at the National Art Gallery (now the National Art Museum of China) in Beijing in 1989—Zhang presented 30x30, a performance that is often referred to as the first instance of Chinese video art. In the three-hour video, the artist repeatedly breaks a mirror and glues its pieces back together. The pace is so slow that when it was first shown, members of the audience demanded the video be fast-forwarded after 20 minutes. With this work, Zhang raises the question of what constitutes art—a concern he continues to explore.

Repetition of simple, banal actions is a recurring theme in Zhang's videos. Document on Hygiene No. 3 (1991), for example, shows the artist washing a chicken with a bar of soap—an absurd and humorous response to the national campaigns of the time for better hygiene. The chicken, whose male counterpart's form has been likened to the outlines of China's map, is rebellious at first but grows docile in Zhang's hands, a taming that potentially alludes to China's oppression of dissidents. In the six-channel video installation Uncertain Pleasure II (1996), close-ups follow a hand as it scratches a naked body, exploring the themes of surveillance and voyeurism while subtly commenting on social control in China in the 1990s.

While known as a pioneer of video art, Zhang also works with other media, often combining video with it. The five-channel work A Gust of Wind (2008), which shows a room being destroyed by a strong wind from different angles, is often displayed beside the remains of the room itself. Other key works, however, are without video content. Solemn Circle (2014) takes the form of a kinetic sculpture, consisting of a large white flag that moves up and down along the length of a four-metre pillar: an ambiguous surrender, perhaps.

Selected solo exhibitions include Record. Repeat. at the Art Institute of Chicago (2017)—the first major retrospective presentation of the artist's work in an American museum—and Certain Pleasures at the Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai, in 2011. In 2003, Zhang helped found the New-Media Art department at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, and he is currently director of OCAT Shanghai, a non-profit museum for new media and video art. In an interview with Ocula Magazine in 2015, Zhang said that his goal at OCAT has been to 'appeal to audiences ... to help them discover that video art actually belongs to the common people and reflects their daily lives.'

Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2019


Zhang Peili Featured Artworks

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The Scene No.2 by Zhang Peili contemporary artwork
Zhang PeiliThe Scene No.2Lithograph, 6-colour, white somerset satin
46.2 x 62.6 cm
Rén Space Enquire about this work
The Scene No.1 by Zhang Peili contemporary artwork
Zhang PeiliThe Scene No.1, 2014Lithograph, 6-colour, white somerset satin
46.2 x 62.6 cm
Rén Space Enquire about this work
The Lips of a Female Announcer by Zhang Peili contemporary artwork
Zhang PeiliThe Lips of a Female Announcer, 2014Waterbase and acrylic pigment print on BFK rag paper
76.2 x 112.8 cm
Rén Space Enquire about this work
CCTV 2 by Zhang Peili contemporary artwork
Zhang PeiliCCTV 2, 2014Waterbase and acrylic pigment print on BFK rag paper
55.9 x 76.2 cm
Rén Space Enquire about this work
Uncertain Pleasure (I) by Zhang Peili contemporary artwork
Zhang PeiliUncertain Pleasure (I), 1996Video still

Not for sale
Asia Art Archive

Zhang Peili Current & Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Observations at Centre Pompidou x West Bund Shanghai, Shanghai
Open Now
8 November 2019–30 August 2020 Group Exhibition Observations Centre Pompidou x West Bund ShanghaiShanghai
Contemporary art exhibition, Zhang Peili, The Annual Report of OCD 關於強迫症的年度報告 at Rén Space, Shanghai
Open Now
6 November 2019–28 July 2020 Zhang Peili The Annual Report of OCD 關於強迫症的年度報告 Rén SpaceShanghai
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, The Body Collective: Performance Art Histories at Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong
Closed
27–31 March 2019 Group Exhibition The Body Collective: Performance Art Histories Asia Art ArchiveHong Kong

Zhang Peili Represented By

Rén Space contemporary art gallery in Shanghai, China Rén Space Shanghai

Zhang Peili In Ocula Magazine

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Aesthetic Radicalism in ‘Awakenings’ at Singapore’s National Gallery Ocula Report Aesthetic Radicalism in ‘Awakenings’ at Singapore’s National Gallery By Sam Gaskin, Singapore

Awakenings: Art in Society in Asia 1960s–1990s, a major retrospective at Singapore's National Gallery (14 June–15 September 2019), opens emphatically in flames. At the exhibition's entrance, viewers encounter a wall-sized image from 1964 titled Burning Canvases Floating on the River. The photograph captures a performance by Lee Seung-taek, in...

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Dr Uli Sigg Ocula Conversation Dr Uli Sigg By Diana d'Arenberg, Hong Kong

I'm very much a fan of the public institution. I think only the public institution can provide the long-term guarantee that it will continue to exist and it will be 'the' public memory.

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Zhang Peili Ocula Conversation Zhang Peili By Sam Gaskin, Shanghai

In terms of Chinese video art, Zhang Peili is omnipresent: he’s celebrated as a pioneering practitioner, he teaches it as a professor at the China Academy of Art, and he’s instrumental in getting it shown as Director of OCAT Shanghai, the city’s leading art space for video. In September of this year, Zhang also curated a...

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Doryun Chong Ocula Conversation Doryun Chong By Anna Dickie, Hong Kong

Doryun Chong is Chief Curator at M+, Hong Kong’s super museum for visual culture. Prior to joining M+, Chong was Associate Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, and prior to that, he was a curator in the visual arts department at Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center from 2003 to 2009. At MoMA, Chong...

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Zhang Peili In Related Press

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From Innovation to Provocation, China’s Artists on a Global Path Related Press From Innovation to Provocation, China’s Artists on a Global Path 6 October 2017, The New York Times

Strange to say, although China has 1.4 billion people, it has only one artist, Ai Weiwei. Or so you'd think if you followed the Western news media. Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum wants to correct that impression. With work by some 70 Chinese-born artists and collectives filling most of the...

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Discussion on video art research in the context of globalisation: 'Time Test' is unveiled Related Press Discussion on video art research in the context of globalisation: 'Time Test' is unveiled 12 July 2016, CAFA ART INFO

At 2:30 pm on July 2, 2016, Time Test – International Video Art Research Exhibition was unveiled at CAFA Art Museum. The exhibition is jointly hosted by Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University East Lansing, Michigan, U.S.A. and CAFA Art Museum. In the axis of the development course of the video art, the project presents...

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Irreverent beauty: A retrospective look at Zhang Peili’s most recent work Related Press Irreverent beauty: A retrospective look at Zhang Peili’s most recent work 4 May 2016, Randian

Upon the 30th anniversary of the much-revered ’85 New Wave movement, China is in the middle of a similar explosion of contemporary artistic activity. Dozens of exhibitions are happening all over the country, many outside the Beijing-Shanghai mega centres, at a level of enthusiasm and public participation hardly seen before. However, ’85...

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M+ Sigg Collection Exhibition Related Press M+ Sigg Collection Exhibition 24 February 2016, WestKowloon

Comprising more than eighty works by fifty artists – including Ai Weiwei, Fang Lijun, Geng Jianyi, Huang Yong Ping, Zhang Peili, and Zhang Xiaogang – this is the first-ever chronological exhibition about the emergence of Chinese contemporary art. It shows both the development of Chinese contemporary art and a glimpse of the collection...

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