Zhang Huan Exhibited at The Saatchi Gallery

Zhang Huan


Mixed Media

320 x 220 x 80 cm

Approaching the subject of Shanghai’s rapid urban development with a political lampoon Zhang Huan’s Donkey is a kinetic sculpture featuring a farm animal humping the famous Jin Mao tower, which until recently was the tallest building in China. Emblematic of the monotonous impersonal high-rises that dominate the city’s skyline, Zhang’s shrunken landmark pokes fun at the masculine connotations of skyscrapers: as monumental phallic symbols, visual symbols of power and wealth. Mounted by and bending under the force of a stuffed donkey (of ’hung like a…’ repute), Zhang’s icon of modernisation gets a literal (and very noisy) shafting from the beast of burden ’proletariat’; in China, the word "donkey" is used to call someone an "ass".

Zhang Huan
Ash Head No.1


Mixed Media and ash

228 x 227 x 244 cm

Zhang Huan’s works are both highly personal and politicised, dealing with complex issues of identity, spiritualism, vulnerability, and transgression. His practice focuses on no one particular media but rather incorporates a wide variety of tactics – from performance to photography, installation, sculpture, and painting -- utilising each method for its physical and symbolic associations. This unique approach to making reinforces the interconnectivity of the concepts and recurrent motifs running throughout of Zhang’s work, and mirrors an underlying sentiment of shared human experience and bond.

Ash Head No. 1, Young Mother, and Seeds, are constructed from incense ash collected from Shanghai temples; a laboriously involved process of weekly gathering and sorting, isolating the vestiges into the indexical categories of texture and pigmentation which Zhang uses to ’paint’ his images. This medium has multiple significations: it is the actual substance of prayers, the dust of death and rebirth, the allegorical weight of spirits. Emitting an overwhelming scent throughout the gallery space these pieces recycle the hopes and wishes of others, sharing a cathartic ambience of cleansing and purity.

In Ash Head No 1., burnt incense is used to cover a monolithic head, its powdery friable texture duplicitously posing as stone. The totem stands defiantly as a self portrait, antediluvian deity, and reference to the iconoclastic policies of the Cultural Revolution. Embedded within the surface, charred jah sticks replicate the minute details of hair, eyelashes and whiskers, poking from the crumbling skin with haunting suggestions of decomposition and obsolescence. Set on a wheeled support/plinth/altar its strange death-head mysticism is posed with the prescience of an accursed museum relic, no longer in the safe confines of storage.

Zhang Huan
Insects No.2


Oil on canvas

250 x 360 cm

In one of Zhang’s best known performance pieces, he covered himself with fish oil and honey and sat statue-still in a public loo in one of the poorest areas of Beijing while his body was completely enveloped by insects, moving only to immersing himself in a river several hours later. Situating his body as a nourishing and abject microcosm, Zhang’s action was a direct response to the abortion and female infanticide resultant from China’s strict family planning laws; the physical extremity of the piece addressed issues of spirituality, the ability for the mind to conquer discomfort, and the purgative enlightenment of suffering.

Zhang’s painting, Insects No. 2, continues these concepts, but in a different form, establishing a self-referential lexicon and harmonious continuity of his practice. Presented as a vast colourfield, the surface of the painting replicates flesh: sickly pink and battered, pocked, scratched, and gauged, a tactile skin both tortured and flawed. The spindly bugs which punctuate the canvas are equally parasitic and autonomous, sequestered and isolated in the afflicted terrain.

Zhang Huan
Young Mother


Incense ash on linen

250 x 400 cm

Huan’s Young Mother is from a series of work made from incense ash. Huan collected the soot regularly from temples; a laboriously involved process of weekly gathering and sorting, isolating the substance into the indexical categories of texture and pigmentation which he used to ’‘paint’ his images. This medium has multiple significations: it is the actual substance of prayers, the dust of death and rebirth, the allegorical weight of spirits. Emitting an overwhelming scent throughout the gallery space these pieces recycle the hopes and wishes of others, sharing a cathartic ambience of cleansing and purity. In Young Mother, the ash is used to portray anonymous woman, her humble and demur demeanour is reminiscent of depictions of the Madonna.

Zhang Huan
Seeds (and detail)


Incense ash, charcoal and resin on canvas

250 x 400 cm

Huan’s Seeds pictures an everyday scene of collective farming, the kind of proletariat image championed in the Maoist era. Executed on mammoth scale, the power of this work is immense, transforming propaganda to near religious experience. Replicated with photographic detail, the painting is entirely constructed from incense ash in a process similar to the sand paintings made by Buddhist monks: each individual tone is sprinkled over the canvas to draw out the picture, with density and fading created by the thickness of the dust application. The texture of the charred incense varies from powdery to granular and straw-like, giving a scorched effect of apocalyptic aftermath, hallowed by the effervescent sweet perfume emitted from its surface.

Other artists in

Zhang Dali    Zeng Fanzhi    Wang Guangyi    Zheng Guogu    Zhang Haiying    Zhang Hongtu    Zhang Huan    Qiu Jie    Xiang Jing    Shi Jinsong    Fang Lijun    Yue Minjun    Li Qing    Wu Shanzhuan    Shen Shaomin    Li Songsong    Zhan Wang    Liu Wei    Zhang Xiaogang    Zhang Xiaotao    Cang Xin    Shi Xinning    Li Yan    Bai Yiluo    Zhang Yuan    Sun Yuan & Peng Yu    Yin Zhaohui    Feng Zhengjie

Zhang Huan's Biography

Zhang Huan
1965 Born in Anyang, Henan Province, China
Lives and works in New York and Shanghai


Bochum Museum, Germany
Galerie Volker Diehl, Berlin

Kunstverein in Hamburg, Germany

Luhring Augustine Gallery, New York
The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, Toronto, Canada
Museo das Peregrinacions, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Famliy Tree, Galerie Albert Benamou, Paris, France

My America, Deitch Projects, New York
Zhang Huan Survey, Adam Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand
Cotthem Gallery, Belgium
Cotthem Gallery, Barcelona

Works From 1994-1998, Max Protetch Gallery, New York
Performance on Video, Artspace, Sydney, Australia
Performance, Artspace, Auckland, New Zealand

He Nan University, Kai Feng


Somewhere Better Than This Place, The Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati
2003 Beaufort, Triennial for Contemporary Art by the Sea, The PMMK, the Museum for Modern Art, Ostend, Belgium
Art Project, DiverseWorks Art Space, Houston
Temporal Mood, Barbara Davis Gallery, Houston
Rituals, Academy of Arts in Berlin, Germany

2002 Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum, New York
Skin Talks, Musee de la Civilisation, Quebec, Canada
Attachment+, Kunsthalle Lophem, Center for Comtenporary Art, Belgium
China Contemporary Art Exhibition--Red Continent, Gwangju Art Museum, Korea
Paisajes del Cuerpo, Sala Zapateria 40, Pamplona, Spain
La Mirada Ajena, Artium, Vitoria, Spain

Yokohama 2001: International Triennale of Contemporary Art, Pacifico Yokohama, Japan
Translated Acts, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, Germany, and Queens Museum of Art, New York
The Gift, Center of Contemporary Art, Siena, Italy
Subject Plural: Crowds in Contemporary Art, Contemporary Arts Museum, Texas
Metamorphosis and Cloning, Museum of Contemporary Art in Montreal, Canada
Naked, Wood Street Galleries, Pittsburgh
Lateral Thinking, Art of the 1990s, Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego

Art and Religion, Parkabdij Heverlee, Belgium (Organized by Museum S.M.A.K., Gent, Belgium)
On the Edge of the Western World,Yerba Buena Center of the Arts,San Francisco,CA
Emotional Rescue: The Contemporary Art Project Collection, Center on Contemporary Art, Seattle, WA
Utopia, Rogaland Kunstmuseum, Stavanger, Norway
Betreff, Expo 2000, Themenpark, Basic Needs, Hannover, Germany
Waterfront--Cultural Bridge 2000, Helsingborg Museum, Sweden and Danmark
Sharing Exoticisms, 5th Biennale de Lyon, Lyon, France
The Standard Projection: 24/7, The Standard Hotel, Los Angeles, CA
Video via Venice, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA
Socialisms, Special Exhibition / Stockholm Art Fair, Sweden
6 Signals: Video by Contemporary Artists, Cheekwood, Nashville, TN
Potent /Present: Selections from the Vicki and Kent Logan Collection, CCAC Institute, Oakland, CA

The Century of the Body: Photoworks 1900-2000, Culturgest, Lisbon, and Musee de Lelysee, Lausanne, France
Last Paradise, Presenca Galeria, Portugal
Self-Portrait, Mercer Union, Centre for Contemporaty Art, Toronto, Canada
Five Continents and a City: Second International Salon of Painting, Museum of Mexico City, Mexico City, Mexico
Best of the Season, Aldrich Museum of Contemporaty Art, Rigefield, CT
Stories, A/C Projects, New York, NY
Summit, Galerie 5020, Salzburg, Austria
Art-Worlds in Dialogue, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany
Risk Cinema, Harn Museum of Art, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL
Zhang Huan: A Video Survery 1994-1998; Performance Art from China, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth, New Zealand
La Biennale di Venezia, Venice, Italy
The Kent and Vicki Logan Collection, San Francisco, CA
Contemporary Collectors, Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, CA
Transience: Chinese Art at the End of the Twentieth Century, The Smart Museum of Art, Chicago, IL
In Your Face, New Langton Arts, San Francisco, CA

Inside Out: New Chinese Art, Asia Society, New York, NY, PS 1 Museum of Contemporary Art, Long Island City, NY, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco,CA
In Your Face, The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA

Chinese Contemporary Art 1997, Watari Museum, Tokyo, Japan

China Art Festival, Munich, Germany
Art Material of Chinas Avant Garde, Fugang, Tokyo, Japan

Configura 2, Erfurt, Germany

Graduate Show, Central Academy of Fine Art, Beijing, China