Magazine article Sculpture

New York

Magazine article Sculpture

New York

Article excerpt

Zhang Dali

Klein Sun Gallery

For decades now, Beijing-based Zhang Dali has been making art that challenges China's status quo, which (most of the Chinese art world would agree) needs to be challenged. His graffiti and cut-out outlines of his head in the ruins of Beijing buildings-destroyed to make room for new architecture-were signs of humanity in an otherwise dehumanized context. Such work has played an important role in the development of contemporary art in China, and Zhang is recognized as having the integrity of independence-a claim not so many Chinese artists can make anymore, caught as they are in the mesh of the bubble economy. "Square," Zhang's recent New York show, confronted viewers with a poetic vision of Tiananmen Square, a place designed to promote unity, where the government brutally killed protestors 25 years ago. In some sense, these works memorialize the failure of the democracy movement in China and its tragically premature attempt at political freedom.

While the press materials explain that Zhang intended to provide an open view of Tiananmen Square- its possibility for hope, as well as its history of violence-for me, the show's orientation expressed itself in images of melancholy and absurd impossibility. The presence of hope was small to the point of vanishing. White birds hung from the ceiling, apparent symbols of active freedom until one remembered that there are no birds to be found in Tiananmen Square. Birds also clung, in the manner of Hitchcock, to the clothing and bodies of Zhang's cast figures representing the poor. (He hired Beijing residents, and paid them well, to undergo the casting process.) One hoped for the best, but these people wore muffled and defeated expressions. The doves clinging to their clothing only underscored the fact that alienation and something close to despair were to be their lot. Zhang's tableau led viewers to a place where private and public suffering combine.

The issues raised by "Square" were more complex than Zhang's seemingly simple arrangements of people and birds. At what point does the presentation of suffering attract blame in a public sense? Zhang's trope turns on desperation, but it is an implied, rather than directly stated desperation. Implication and suggestion go quite far in Chinese art, whose strategies include both oblique and barely hidden critiques of government authoritarianism. Now that the Chinese miracle of a stable and robust economy-fueled by savage capitalism, as the French would describe it-has been achieved, it seems almost pointless to ride against the waves of prosperity. …

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