A digital archive of Asian/Asian American contemporary art history

Zhang, Hongtu

Other Names: ???; Hong Tu

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Most of Zhang Hongtu's works are mixed media conceptual paintings. Zhang's images have frequently featured a central cutout, the edges of which form the silhouette of an well known cultural icons from both eastern and western culture. After the Chinese government crashed pro-democracy movement ,which has been called Tiananmen Square incident, Zhang has intensively created a series of the image of Chairman Mao Zedong as a symbol of pervasive power. These Mao images really made a splash that journals, magazines, advertisers, even trendy fashion houses adopted Zhang's work. However,
Mao's portrait is only one of the numerous cultural icons that Zhang has portrayed: the Buddha, the crucifixion of Christ, the cross, the holy trinity, ionic columns, traditional Chinese book bound with thread, and the Great Wall. In his effort of deconstructing those cultural icons, Zhang has developed and continued to use the two major techniques, cut out and contrast. As he cuts images out, positive becomes negative and solids turns into voids that central image is left unfilled. Zhang's purpose in using contrasting technique is to criticize commonly held value judgements of high and low and dispute the distinction between them. This is why and how those unfilled images are surrounded by basic raw materials such as oil, rice, grass, MSG, soy sauce, cement, nails and corns etc.. These two conflicting images of empty ground figure and mundane surrounding substances have been so successful in creating some sort of tension that they have induced a lot of viewers to question on high and low, common and grand and reality and illusion. Critics have praised this artist's work as "this is a clever work, one that at once elicits admiration for the artist's wit and uneasiness over his statement."(Lee Hui-Shu, "The Significance of a Bagel), "at once a tour de force and a farce, Last Banquet reinterprets a great Western religious painting as an emblem of Mao's egotism. Its audacity is compelling and, surprisingly, not without pathos." (Jonathan Goodman, Exhibition review)

Review by Young Park

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