From 19 September to 19 November 2016, the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) presents “Zeng Fanzhi: Parcours”, the artist’s largest and most comprehensive exhibition anywhere to date and his first institutional solo show in Beijing. Including nearly sixty works borrowed from collections around the world, it covers nearly thirty years of Zeng’s creative output, winding through his extensive stylistic and thematic evolutions on canvas and in sculptural form. The main body of the exhibition in UCCA’s Great Hall features key works from each major series in Zeng’s career, presenting a complete picture of his creative exploration and artistic contribution, and referring to art-historical precedents from Hellenistic sculpture to Lucien Freud. It culminates in a room dedicated to a recent series of works on paper—never before exhibited in China—which mark a new engagement with the aesthetics of Chinese painting, and in the Nave, where a special space has been constructed to show two of his most substantial landscapes.
Its title inspired by that of an early painting he completed in 1990, “Zeng Fanzhi: Parcours” offers to bring the viewer along on the artist’s creative journey. A key figure in the generation of artists who emerged, along with the very notion of “Contemporary Chinese Art,” onto the world stage of the early 1990s, Zeng has consistently used his works to reflect on the social and cultural climate of his country through a highly personal visual language. His early paintings, completed during the late 1980s while he was a student at the Hubei Institute of Fine Arts, combine the pedagogical apparatus of socialist realism with a romantic interest in Western classicism and modernism to depict new realities of Reform-era Chinese society. Following his arrival on the Beijing scene in the early-1990s, Zeng quickly gained recognition for his “Masks” series, which gives symbolic form to the dichotomies and affectations of that era through figures in varying states of alienation. After this, Zeng continued his research into painting itself, producing the strikingly colored, tensely vibrating, monumentally scaled canvases of the “Abstract Landscapes” series. In recent years, he has combined the free-range brushstrokes of these landscapes with homages to works by masters including Leonardo DaVinci and Albrecht Dürer, in a series of seven four-by-four-meter paintings that have been extensively exhibited abroad. The newest works in this exhibition consist of a grouping of paintings in ink on paper which signal an introspective shift in his practice. Today Zeng fulfills a role inhabited by artists throughout Chinese history: an aesthete among the worldly, offering uplift and solace through refinement.
Its design carefully authored by the artist’s longtime collaborators Tadao Ando Architect & Associates, “Zeng Fanzhi: Parcours” rhythmically divides the expanse of UCCA’s Great Hall into an immersive survey of his career. Six freestanding walls, each punctuated by a 2.4-meter square window, thoughtfully connect major shifts in the artist’s practice. They are enclosed by a series of darker walls that run around the space’s perimeter, chronologically presenting portraits from all phases of Zeng’s career. Having sought to avoid enclosed spaces, Tadao Ando has likened this layout to sections of an MRI scan that allow viewers to walk through layers of the artist’s mind.
UCCA Director and exhibition curator Philip Tinari states, “UCCA is hugely excited to be presenting Zeng Fanzhi’s most comprehensive exhibition to date anywhere in the world. His singular painterly vision connects his personal experience of living in contemporary China to centuries of artistic creation across many cultures, as art becomes a vehicle for exploring history and articulating taste. This exhibition offers not only an overview of his considerable talent, but a meditation on the importance of aesthetic cultivation in a messy world.”
Regarding his survey, Zeng Fanzhi states, “Fortunately, I encountered painting in my youth and chose to embark on this creative path that now stretches for nearly thirty years. Along the way, I have discovered a place I call my own, where art serves as a guide through the long corridor of history, allowing one to traipse freely through time and space. My heart is filled with gratitude for the wonderment of this experience, and I hope by presenting this exhibition, which incorporates canvases from all the major shifts in my practice, to share a fantastic visual journey with a global audience.”
About the Exhibition
Zeng Fanzhi: Parcours is curated by Philip Tinari and Guo Xi, and designed by Tadao Ando Architect & Associates. The exhibition is supported by the Zeng Fanzhi Leadership Circle: SANLI HOLDINGS, Taikang Life Insurance Co., Ltd., Tianchen Times, Yunfeng Capital, Chiu Yeng Culture, Wang Zhongjun, and Zhao Xu. Special support comes from Pinault Collection. The patrons’ dinner is generously supported by Gagosian Gallery. Additional support is provided by Dior and Shanghart Gallery. Lighting technology support comes from Hongri Lighting and KGM International Lighting Design. Additional production support for the works on paper comes from STPI Creative Workshop and Gallery. The exhibition opening events are supported by Mercedes-Benz, NUO Hotel Beijing, Castiglion Del Bosco by Massimo Ferragamo, and InStar. Exhibition-related merchandise is produced in collaboration with 3125C, CROQUIS, ZENS, echo, cam-in, and ART TIMES.
The eponymous monograph Zeng Fanzhi: Parcours, published by China CITIC Press, follows a spatial logic derived from the exhibition. The monograph includes essays by Philip Tinari and Karen Smith, as well as a dialogue between the artist and Alexandra Munroe, Senior Curator of Asian Art at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, visiting each of Zeng Fanzhi’s distinct periods. Elsewhere, Tadao Ando shares his concept for the design of the exhibition, rewarding readers with further background on every angle of the exhibition. Zeng Fanzhi: Parcours is presented with support from Hu’an Publication. The monograph is available at UCCASTORE.
The exhibition is accompanied by a suite of public programs that includes a series of conversations inviting Richard Shiff (Effie Marie Cain Regents Chair in Art, University of Texas at Austin), Johnson Chang (co-founder, Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong), Pi Li (Senior Curator, M+ Museum, Hong Kong), Xu Yongmin (director, Hubei Institute of Fine Arts), and Cao Dan (professor, Hubei Institute of Fine Arts), among others, to discuss Zeng Fanzhi’s work in relation to the exhibition. Further discussions are hosted in Wuhan. UCCA will also screen Zeng Fanzhi: YOU Art Project, an up-close study showing the artist in the process of creating one of his signature paintings.
About the Artist
Zeng Fanzhi (b. 1964, Wuhan) graduated from the oil painting department at Hubei Institute of Fine Arts, and now lives and works in Beijing. His solo museum exhibitions include “Zeng Fanzhi: Idealism” (Singapore Art Museum, 2007); “Zeng Fanzhi” (Musée d’Art Moderne de Saint-Etienne de Metropole, 2007); “Zeng Fanzhi” (Fundación Godia, Barcelona, 2009); and “2010: Zeng Fanzhi” (Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai, 2010). Zeng’s work was the subject of a major retrospective at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 2013–14. In a specially commissioned exhibition at the Musée du Louvre in 2014, his painting From 1830 till now No. 4 (2014) was shown alongside Eugène Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People (1830). Zeng’s work was included in the China Pavilion at the 53rd Venice Biennale (2009); “The World Belongs to You” (Palazzo Grassi, Venice, 2011–12); “Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China” (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2013–14); and “Paintings, Drawings and Two Sculptures” (Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2015).