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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

Exhibition view: Zhang Peili, Mortals Index 2020, Rén Space, Shanghai (27 March–27 June 2021). Courtesy Rén Space. 

Zhang Peili Featured Artworks

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Total Water Volume by Zhang Peili contemporary artwork
Zhang PeiliTotal Water Volume, 2019Artificial Crystal
17 x 38 x 43 cm
Rén Space Contact Gallery
19-O004 by Zhang Peili contemporary artwork
Zhang Peili19-O004, 2019White Michelangelo marble
18 x 21 x 18 cm
Rén Space Contact Gallery
Full Set of Bones by Zhang Peili contemporary artwork
Zhang PeiliFull Set of Bones, 2019Carrara white marble
28 x 59 x 181 cm
Rén Space Contact Gallery
Collision Model No.1 by Zhang Peili contemporary artwork
Zhang PeiliCollision Model No.1, 2021Kinetic installation
Rén Space Contact Gallery
Collision Model No.2 by Zhang Peili contemporary artwork
Zhang PeiliCollision Model No.2, 2021Kinetic installation, gas tanks, silver skull
Rén Space Contact Gallery
Password by Zhang Peili contemporary artwork
Zhang PeiliPassword, 2020Installation
Rén Space Contact Gallery
Where there is life, Threre is hope by Zhang Peili contemporary artwork
Zhang PeiliWhere there is life, Threre is hope, c. 2015Jacquard tapestry
270 x 180 cm
Rén Space Contact Gallery
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, Zhang Peili, Mortals Index 2020 at Beijing Center for the Arts, Shanghai
Open Now
27 March–27 June 2021 Zhang Peili Mortals Index 2020 Beijing Center for the ArtsShanghai
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Buffering at Rén Space, Shanghai
Closed
15 August–30 September 2020 Group Exhibition Buffering Rén SpaceShanghai
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Observations at Centre Pompidou x West Bund Shanghai
Closed
8 November 2019–30 August 2020 Group Exhibition Observations Centre Pompidou x West Bund ShanghaiShanghai

Zhang Peili Represented By

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

Zhang Peili In Ocula Magazine

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Asia Society Triennial Part Two is a Mixed Success Ocula Feature Asia Society Triennial Part Two is a Mixed Success By Vivian Chui, New York

New York City's Asia Society Museum ushered in the spring season by unveiling the second and final chapter of its inaugural triennial.

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

Gu Wenda's performance is just one example of how art in the city is blooming, as the new Shenzhen Museum of Contemporary Art and Planning Exhibition nears completion and new exhibitions open at OCT Loft

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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 In Related Press

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Zhang Peili 'The Annual Report of OCD' Rén Space, Shanghai Related Press Zhang Peili 'The Annual Report of OCD' Rén Space, Shanghai 23 April 2021, Ran Dian

This exhibition puts the artist on display, literally. From the inside out. You may never again have an opportunity to see so much of one individual laid bare before your eyes all at one time.

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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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