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b. 1982, China

Zhao Zhao Biography

Zhao Zhao is an artist who works across media, incorporating objects, performance, video, and painting into his practice. A significant figure among the young post-1980s generation of contemporary Chinese artists, the artist's work often interrogates his home country’s institutional systems and politics, appearing anti-authoritarian and non-conformist in its ethos.

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Zhao’s background has greatly influenced his artistic output. Zhao Zhao was born in 1982, and he grew up in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, China's north-western frontier. Graduating with a BFA in Oil Painting from Xinjiang Institute of Arts in 2003, he became Ai Weiwei’s assistant, working with the well-known Chinese artist on documentaries that investigated several major Chinese national events, such as the Sichuan earthquake (So Sorry, 2012) and the imprisonment of Chinese dissidents (Disturbing the Peace, 2009).

In 2011, after Ai's well-publicised arrest in Beijing, Zhao struck out on his own as an artist, his time with Ai influencing the subversive and often provocative nature of his subsequent work. The sculpture Officer (2011), for example, is an enormous statue of a police officer shattered into pieces, possibly referencing the idea of a broken police force or overthrown power, or querying ideas around freedom of expression. Insofar as the statue’s face resembles the artist’s face, the work also arguably speaks to the vulnerability and powerlessness of an artist to make an impact on the world. Created after Ai's arrest, Officer is a juxtaposition of power and powerlessness. In 2012, the work was confiscated by the Chinese customs police while in transit for a scheduled solo exhibition of Zhao's work in New York.

Zhao’s interest in the impact of violent force on objects, which can also be glimpsed in Officer, has its origins in a car accident he had in 2007, in which he hit his head on the windshield of a car. Preserving the glass, Zhao referenced its form to create the ‘Fragments’ series, ongoing since 2007, that includes sculptures in steel, gold, and bronze, and are made from irregular fragments that radiate from the centre in a manner reminiscent of shattered glass. Another ongoing series with a similar concept is ‘Constellations’ (since 2013), which takes the form of glass panels featuring holes and cracks made by gunshots. The series also consists of paintings depicting shattered glass, hyperrealistically rendered in a limited colour palette of Prussian blue, Van Dyck brown, and white, such as those exhibited in Zhao’s solo presentation Zhao Zhao: Constellations II at Chambers Fine Art, New York, in 2015.

The year 2015 also marked the start of two important projects for the artist. One involved the artist completing 20 oil paintings (each 35 x 27cm) of himself over a two-year period, each presenting the same composition of the artist’s head and shoulders slightly in profile with hand placed dejectedly on chin, and staring blankly into space. Presented in 2017 at Lin & Lin Gallery in Taipei, the portraits become increasingly executed in looser and darker tones as the series progresses. Project Taklamakan (2015–2016), on the other hand and in marked contrast, involved the artist and a team of 30 people traveling 100km to connect a refrigerator in Beijing to a power source in the Taklamakan Desert in Xinjiang, which flanks the country’s north-west border. In October of 2017 in a follow-up to this marathon effort, the artist bought a camel and its keeper from Xinjiang to appear at Tang Contemporary in the artist’s aptly named solo exhibition, Desert Camel. Project Taklamakan appears to poke fun at Beijing’s geo-political manouverings in the region, including those relating to President Xi Jinping’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI); however, it is equally a very personal exploration of self, Zhao’s journey to Xinjiang marking the first time in ten years the artist had visited his home region. Conversely, the portraits, in regard of the context of Zhao’s wider practice, are arguably not only expressions of self-analysis, but equally reflect a wider social sense of helplessness.

A contrast in approaches appears to mark the artist’s practice generally, with it swinging deftly between subtle subversion and full-frontal provocation, and the personal and the political. The ‘Sky’ series (ongoing since 2009), for example, includes semi-abstract paintings that depict deep-blue skies with swirls of colours. Based on the polluted skies of Beijing, the 'Sky' paintings appear to be poetic renderings of nature’s beauty, but in the colours used they reference China’s state of pollution. The photographs and video from Zhao’s performance Slap and Secret Love, Leather Shoe and Family (2014), on the other hand are more directly confronting. In these videos, the artist slaps a volunteer, stabs artist Sun Yuan in the back, gifts a volunteer with the knife used to stab Sun, and finally spends 15 hours with a family until he is asked to leave.  

Rui Tang | Ocula | 2019

Zhao Zhao Featured Artworks

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Peach 桃子 by Zhao Zhao contemporary artwork
Zhao ZhaoPeach 桃子, 2020Oil on canvas 油彩 ‧ 畫布
60 x 50 cm
Lin & Lin Gallery Contact Gallery
Sky No. 12 by Zhao Zhao contemporary artwork
Zhao ZhaoSky No. 12, 2014Oil on linen
149.9 x 149.9 cm
Roberts Projects Contact Gallery
Sky by Zhao Zhao contemporary artwork
Zhao ZhaoSky, 2018Oil on canvas
150 x 150 cm
Tang Contemporary Art Contact Gallery
Bamboo Shoot by Zhao Zhao contemporary artwork
Zhao ZhaoBamboo Shoot, 2019Oil on canvas 油彩.畫布
60 x 50 cm
Lin & Lin Gallery Contact Gallery
Constellations by Zhao Zhao contemporary artwork
Zhao ZhaoConstellations, 2019Oil on canvas
200 x 160 cm
Tang Contemporary Art Contact Gallery
Gold Constellation No.4 金星空 No.4 by Zhao Zhao contemporary artwork
Zhao ZhaoGold Constellation No.4 金星空 No.4, 2019Embroidery on silk
177 x 134.5 cm
Chambers Fine Art Contact Gallery
Gold Constellation No.3 金星空 No.3 by Zhao Zhao contemporary artwork
Zhao ZhaoGold Constellation No.3 金星空 No.3, 2019Embroidery on silk
177 x 134.5 cm
Chambers Fine Art Contact Gallery
One Second by Zhao Zhao contemporary artwork
Zhao ZhaoOne Second, 2018Pencil on paper
55 x 75 cm
Tang Contemporary Art Contact Gallery

Zhao Zhao Current & Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Gallery Artists Autumn Show at Lin & Lin Gallery, Taipei
Open Now
17 October–21 November 2020 Group Exhibition Gallery Artists Autumn Show Lin & Lin Gallery, TaipeiTaipei
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Zero Loop 零度迴路 at Lin & Lin Gallery, Taipei
Closed
4 July–19 September 2020 Group Exhibition Zero Loop 零度迴路 Lin & Lin Gallery, TaipeiTaipei
Contemporary art exhibition, Zhao Zhao, White at Tang Contemporary Art, Beijing
Closed
20 May–30 June 2020 Zhao Zhao White Tang Contemporary Art, Beijing 2nd SpaceBeijing 2nd Space

Zhao Zhao Represented By

Chambers Fine Art contemporary art gallery in Beijing, China Chambers Fine Art New York, Beijing
Roberts Projects contemporary art gallery in Los Angeles, USA Roberts Projects Los Angeles
Tang Contemporary Art contemporary art gallery in Beijing, China Tang Contemporary Art Hong Kong, Beijing, Bangkok

Zhao Zhao In Ocula Magazine

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Gallery Weekend Beijing: Exhibition Lowdown Ocula Feature Gallery Weekend Beijing: Exhibition Lowdown By Tessa Moldan, Beijing

Between 22 and 31 May, Gallery Weekend Beijing returns for its fourth edition across 798 Art District. This lowdown provides a selection of exhibitions to catch as spring turns to summer in the capital.

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Taipei Dangdai Launches Digital Platform With Ocula Ocula News Taipei Dangdai Launches Digital Platform With Ocula Taipei, 23 April 2020

Taipei Connections seeks to build a bridge between galleries and collectors separated by COVID-19.

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Art Basel Launches Online Showrooms After Cancelling HK Show Ocula News Art Basel Launches Online Showrooms After Cancelling HK Show Hong Kong, 21 February 2020

With tens of millions in China confined to their homes, galleries and institutions have likewise pivoted to online events.

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Taipei Lowdown: Shows to See Ocula Feature Taipei Lowdown: Shows to See By Tessa Moldan, Taipei

As Taipei Dangdai returns for its second edition between 17 and 19 January 2020 at the Nangang Exhibition Center, a selection of exhibitions across the city confirm Taipei as one of the region's most exciting art hubs.

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Zhao Zhao In Related Press

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'One Second • One Year': Chinese artist Zhao Zhao’s depictions of time Related Press 'One Second • One Year': Chinese artist Zhao Zhao’s depictions of time 30 September 2018, Art Radar Journal

Zhao Zhao had formerly been Ai Weiwei's studio assistant for seven years; they had first met in 2004, a year after Zhao had graduated from the Xinjiang Arts Institute. Ai Weiwei's close friendship with Zhao Zhao is very much in evidence in this particular essay that Ai Weiwei wrote for Zhao Zhao; in it, he recounts the various projects that Zhao...

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Along China’s New Silk Road: Zhao Yao, Zhao Zhao and Zhuang Hui Related Press Along China’s New Silk Road: Zhao Yao, Zhao Zhao and Zhuang Hui 16 April 2018, Frieze

While I was writing this article, in February 2018, the artist Zhao Yao received permission to rent the iconic Workers' Stadium in north-eastern Beijing for one day in May. His intention was to show an abstract composition on fabric, measuring 116 × 86 m, which was produced in 2016 and initially displayed 5,000 m above sea level on a mountainside...

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Art Basel Hong Kong Related Press Art Basel Hong Kong 29 March 2017, art agenda

Twenty years after the handover of sovereignty from the United Kingdom to China, Hong Kong stands at a crossroads. The generation to come of age in the intervening decades has become restless, frustrated by the rejection of demands for universal suffrage (the election for the next Chief Executive takes places tomorrow, March 26, but only 1194...

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ZHAO ZHAO Related Press ZHAO ZHAO 26 February 2015, Flaunt

Zhao Zhao and I first met on November 27, 2004. We have known each other for more than 10 years. He graduated from the Xinjiang Arts Institute, one of the top eight art academies in China. The institute is something between a teaching university and an art academy: a comprehensive art school offering classes in fine art, broadcasting, dance, and...

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Zhao Zhao In Video & Audio

Zhao Zhao: ‘You cannot separate art from politics’ Related Video & Audio Zhao Zhao: ‘You cannot separate art from politics’ 4 October 2016, studio international

A prominent member of the post-1980s generation of Chinese artists and a former assistant of Ai Wewei, the Beijing artist talks about his visually stunning, anti-authoritarian and provocative work. Lilly Wei talked to the artist in his Beijing studio in 2015

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