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April 13 2009 2 13 /04 /April /2009 14:33

Zeng Fanzhi has largely been awaited in United States, for a prestigious Gallery such as the Acquavella welcomes him for his first solo exhibition in the United States. Indeed, since a painting from the Mask series has been sold in Christie’s Hong Kong for $ 9,7 million, the auction record for a Chinese artist, he is considered as one the greatest figure of the contemporary art.

This exhibition, largely broadcasted by the media. is an event in the art world of New-York. William Acquavella, President of Acquavella Galleries, said : "Since the early 1990s, he has been shown in major museums and sold by major galleries and is now the most admired figurative artist of his generation in Asia. His powerfully distinctive paintings explore personal identity and social convention."  Twenty paintings, portraits and landscapes which he started in 1999, will be showcased.

Those two series of paintings mark a important turn in his creation. We shall explain briefly his path in order to capture the background of this exhibition. It is with the Mask Series (1994-2000), that the public noticed the artist. Representations of people from the Chinese society, alone or in groups, always with masks that feature a smiling yet frozen expression. These paintings highlight a certain fragility, and human loneliness among this society. The background is usually plain, with vivids colors, and the characters have typical clothes evoking communism, such as the red tie.

Zeng Fanzhi is considered as a Chinese artists who succeeded to render emotions, ideas from China and shared it with an occidental public, yet with an authentic Chinese expression. But when we look close to his work, it is hard to say where the innovation and the Chinese breathe remain... Could we guess at first sight that the works are non-occidental paintings? It might be because it is so occidental and conventional that the Art Market welcomes him so warmly. For instance, the series of portraits displayed in the Acquavella Gallery seems to have a too strong touch of Francis Bacon, that was already here in the mask series : Not only in the wipeout of the brushstroke, escaping toward the top of the canvas, giving this impression that the characters’ minds are fading away, but their strong look, the plain background, are all characteristics of Bacon’s work.

Yet, the technique is perfect, and the Landscape Series, with his rhizomatic lines invading the canvas, saturating the space, reaches us with a strong feeling of constriction. In this series we can really see the personality of the artist growing, expressing and actually really reaching us. This dark atmosphere, blue and purple, those characters prisonners of this chaos of lines :  it could symbolize this same chaos of desire and restriction we have inside ourselves, which blocks us in our path and ideas.

Did Zeng Fanzhi understand better than the other Chinese artists how to capture the art market ? By retaking some patterns of one of the best contemporary (also with Lucien Freud, Bacon is today the most expansive work) and mixing it with the cliché of the communism in China ? Did he just entered the system in acting as an occidental would expect him to act as a Chinese ? The best is to leave those questions open, and, in order to make your own opinion about Zeng Fanzhi, take advantage of this exhibition, and confront yourselves directly with his work.

Zeng Fanzhi was born in 1964 in Wuhan province and studied oil painting at the Wuhan Art Academy. Today he lives and works in Beijing. Zeng Fanzhi has exhibited widely at acclaimed institutions such as the Shanghai Art Museum, National Art Museum (Beijing), Kunst Museum Bonn, Kunstmuseum Bern, Santa Monica Art Centre, (Barcelona), and Art Centre (Hong Kong).

[Visual : Zeng Fanzhi, portait 08-4-1, 2008, oil on canvas, courtesy Acquavellas galleries]

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