Zhang Huan: Evoking Tradition brings together a number of primarily sculptural works—as well as source materials, preparatory drawings, and video—that demonstrate ways in which artist Zhang Huan (b. 1965) touches upon Chinese cultural and religious traditions within his practice. Zhang’s work engages, in particular, with aspects of Buddhist philosophy and rituals, and he sees the contemporary condition as one that is constantly revitalized through an engagement with the past. Focusing mainly on the past decade of the artist’s production, the exhibition takes place both in Storm King Art Center’s Museum Building and outdoors, in the eastern area of the grounds near to Three Legged Buddha (2007), a major work by Zhang in Storm King’s permanent collection.
Zhang began his career in the 1990s in Beijing, where he created a body of mostly performative work that was frequently politically engaged, touching on issues such as poverty and personal freedoms. He moved to New York in 1998, staying for eight years and expanding upon his practice, often in performances that addressed cultural difference and nomadism.
Zhang returned to China at the end of 2005, but to Shanghai—a city in which he had never before lived—and was newly struck by traditional elements of Chinese society. It is in his large studio in Shanghai that Zhang has embarked on a new chapter in his career, one marked by a focus on more “traditional” forms of art making: sculpture and painting.
In the Museum Building, maquettes, drawings, and video join Zhang’s ash sculptures, crafted from incense ash gathered from Buddhist temples. Outdoors, the earliest and most recently created works are on view: Peace No. 2 (2001), and Milly’s Temple (2013). These join four large-scale sculptures in hammered copper that Zhang conceived in tribute to Buddha sculptures that were destroyed in the 1960s and 1970s during the Cultural Revolution in China. These sculptures creatively recombine sculptural fragments: feet, legs, arms, and heads. Zhang, who became deeply engaged in Buddhism upon returning to China, pays homage to his religion and culture through his artistic re-imaginings.
This exhibition is organized by David R. Collens, Director and Curator, Storm King Art Center; Melissa Chiu, Director, Asia Society Museum, New York; and Nora Lawrence, Associate Curator, Storm King Art Center.
Zhang Huan: Evoking Tradition is made possible by generous lead support from Roberta and Steven Denning; Agnes Gund; the Hazen Polsky Foundation; Vincent Mo, Executive Chairman, SouFun Holdings Ltd.; Ohnell Charitable Lead Trust; Pace Gallery; Samuel E. Freeman Charitable Trust; and The Trevor Family. Additional support is provided by Abel and Sophia Sheng Support for the accompanying publication is generously provided by Pace Gallery and Furthermore: a program of the J. M. Kaplan Fund.
Support for education-related programming is provided by the Charina Endowment Fund and Sidney E. Frank Foundation, and artist talks are made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.