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A Dialogue across Time between Zhang Xiaogang and René Magritte

I believe that painting ultimately still rests on a linguistic level, which enables us to make proper judgments regarding the proficiency and profundity of expression. In other words, what matters to artists is what kind of language they authentically have a feeling for and whether they have entered a desirable linguistic state....Sometimes the feeling for a certain language even triggers the recognition and determination of an idea.[1] —Zhang Xiaogang

Artists in China in the 1980s looked for new visual languages to render reality and their mental states. Many admired modern European artists such as Giorgio de Chirico, Salvador Dalí, and René Magritte. Zhang Xiaogang’s ideas about painting’s linguistic dimension cannot be fully understood without knowing his thoughts on the art of Magritte. Both artists employ strategies such as doubling, displacement, transformation, metamorphosis, and rational visual language that places less importance on technique. However, Zhang’s works amount to far more than successful assimilations of European modernism. We also see in his oeuvre a vernacular style associated with photographic portraits and daily scenes inflected with magic realism. These features demonstrate Zhang’s interest in revisiting histories, depicting trauma, and questioning modes of representation.

post presents here a group of Zhang’s works spanning the late 1980s to the present alongside a selection of paintings by Magritte. These juxtapositions indicate how an artist’s reading of works by “the other” instigates cross-temporal interactions and cross-cultural connections.

In addition, post is publishing a series of primary documents in which Chinese artists give their reflections on Western art. See “related content” at right.

We invite you to join the conversation about Zhang Xiaogang and René Magritte. The exhibition Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938 is on view at MoMA until January 12, 2014. See also the exhibition website

[1]: As quoted in Huang Zhuan, “Report From the Artist’s Studio (August 2, 1996),” in Contemporary Chinese Art: Primary Documents, ed. Wu Hung (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2010), p. 190.

Author

Yuchieh li

Yu-Chieh Li

Former Andrew W. Mellon C-MAP Fellow at The Museum of Modern Art Yu-Chieh Li was the Andrew W. Mellon C-MAP Fellow for the C-MAP Asia group from October 2013 to September 2015. At the Museum, she was a co-editor of post and organized... Read more »
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A Dialogue across Time between Zhang Xiaogang and René Magritte

I believe that painting ultimately still rests on a linguistic level, which enables us to make proper judgments regarding the proficiency and profundity of expression. In other words, what matters to artists is what kind of language they authentically have a feeling for and whether they have entered a desirable linguistic state....Sometimes the feeling for a certain language even triggers the recognition and determination of an idea.[1] —Zhang Xiaogang

Artists in China in the 1980s looked for new visual languages to render reality and their mental states. Many admired modern European artists such as Giorgio de Chirico, Salvador Dalí, and René Magritte. Zhang Xiaogang’s ideas about painting’s linguistic dimension cannot be fully understood without knowing his thoughts on the art of Magritte. Both artists employ strategies such as doubling, displacement, transformation, metamorphosis, and rational visual language that places less importance on technique. However, Zhang’s works amount to far more than successful assimilations of European modernism. We also see in his oeuvre a...

Show More

I believe that painting ultimately still rests on a linguistic level, which enables us to make proper judgments regarding the proficiency and profundity of expression. In other words, what matters to artists is what kind of language they authentically have a feeling for and whether they have entered a desirable linguistic state....Sometimes the feeling for a certain language even triggers the recognition and determination of an idea.[1] —Zhang Xiaogang

Artists in China in the 1980s looked for new visual languages to render reality and their mental states. Many admired modern European artists such as Giorgio de Chirico, Salvador Dalí, and René Magritte. Zhang Xiaogang’s ideas about painting’s linguistic dimension cannot be fully understood without knowing his thoughts on the art of Magritte. Both artists employ strategies such as doubling, displacement, transformation, metamorphosis, and rational visual language that places less importance on technique. However, Zhang’s works amount to far more than successful assimilations of European modernism. We also see in his oeuvre a vernacular style associated with photographic portraits and daily scenes inflected with magic realism. These features demonstrate Zhang’s interest in revisiting histories, depicting trauma, and questioning modes of representation.

post presents here a group of Zhang’s works spanning the late 1980s to the present alongside a selection of paintings by Magritte. These juxtapositions indicate how an artist’s reading of works by “the other” instigates cross-temporal interactions and cross-cultural connections.

In addition, post is publishing a series of primary documents in which Chinese artists give their reflections on Western art. See “related content” at right.

We invite you to join the conversation about Zhang Xiaogang and René Magritte. The exhibition Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938 is on view at MoMA until January 12, 2014. See also the exhibition website

[1]: As quoted in Huang Zhuan, “Report From the Artist’s Studio (August 2, 1996),” in Contemporary Chinese Art: Primary Documents, ed. Wu Hung (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2010), p. 190.

     

4

Blood Line-Big Family No. 4

Courtesy of Zhang Xiaogang Art Studio © 2013 the artist
Thethoughtwhichsees

The Thought Which Sees

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles B. Benenson. © 2013 C. Herscovici, Brussels / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Lareprodutioninterdite

La Reproduction interdite (Not to be Reproduced)

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam. © Charly Herscovici – ADAGP - ARS, 2013
5

Amnesia and Memory: Telephone

Courtesy of Zhang Xiaogang Art Studio © 2013 the artist
Ladureepoignarde

La Durée poignardée (Time Transfixed)

The Art Institute of Chicago, Joseph Winterbotham Collection, 1970.426. © Charly Herscovici – ADAGP - ARS, 2013
3

The 4th for a Week Private Note

Courtesy of Zhang Xiaogang Art Studio © 2013 the artist
Theindescreetjewels

The Indiscreet Jewels (Les bijoux indiscrets)

Gift of Gilbert E. Kaplan. © 2013 C. Herscovici, Brussels / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
1

The Black Trilogy: Fear, Meditation and Sorrow

Courtesy of Zhang Xiaogang Art Studio © 2013 the artist
Lemariage deminuit

Le Mariage de minuit (The Midnight Marriage)

Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels. © Charly Herscovici – ADAGP - ARS, 2013
52

Les Idées de l’acrobate (The Acrobat’s Ideas)

© Pinakothek der Moderne, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich
2

Duplicated Space No. 2

Courtesy of Zhang Xiaogang Art Studio © 2013 the artist
Themenacesassassin

L’Assassin menacé (The Menaced Assassin)

The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Kay Sage Tanguy Fund © Charly Herscovici – ADAGP - ARS, 2013
7

Train Window-Red Plum

Courtesy of Zhang Xiaogang Art Studio © 2013 the artist
Laconditionhumaine

La Condition humaine (The Human Condition)

National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Gift of the Collector’s Committee 1987.55.1. © Charly Herscovici – ADAGP - ARS, 2013
4

Blood Line-Big Family No. 4

Oil on canvas, 180 x 230 cm

Courtesy of Zhang Xiaogang Art Studio © 2013 the artist
Thethoughtwhichsees

The Thought Which Sees

Pencil on Paper. 15 3/4 x 11 3/4" (40.0 x 29.7 cm)

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles B. Benenson. © 2013 C. Herscovici, Brussels / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Lareprodutioninterdite

La Reproduction interdite (Not to be Reproduced)

Oil on canvas. 31 7⁄8 x 25 9⁄16" (81 x 65 cm).

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam. © Charly Herscovici – ADAGP - ARS, 2013
5

Amnesia and Memory: Telephone

Oil on canvas, 120 x 150 cm

Courtesy of Zhang Xiaogang Art Studio © 2013 the artist
Ladureepoignarde

La Durée poignardée (Time Transfixed)

Oil on canvas. 57 7⁄8 x 39" (147 x 99 cm)

The Art Institute of Chicago, Joseph Winterbotham Collection, 1970.426. © Charly Herscovici – ADAGP - ARS, 2013
3

The 4th for a Week Private Note

Oil on paper, 51 x 39 cm

Courtesy of Zhang Xiaogang Art Studio © 2013 the artist
Theindescreetjewels

The Indiscreet Jewels (Les bijoux indiscrets)

Lithograph. composition: 9 3/16 x 11 7/8" (23.4 x 30.2 cm); sheet: 12 5/8 x 15 7/8" (32 x 40.4 cm). Published by XXe Siècle Éditions, Paris and printed by Mourlot, Paris. Edition: 20 H.C. proofs outside an edition of 75.

Gift of Gilbert E. Kaplan. © 2013 C. Herscovici, Brussels / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
1

The Black Trilogy: Fear, Meditation and Sorrow

Oil on canvas, three panels, each 179 x 114 cm

Courtesy of Zhang Xiaogang Art Studio © 2013 the artist
Lemariage deminuit

Le Mariage de minuit (The Midnight Marriage)

Oil on canvas. 54 3⁄4 x 41 5⁄16" (139 x 105 cm)

Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels. © Charly Herscovici – ADAGP - ARS, 2013
52

Les Idées de l’acrobate (The Acrobat’s Ideas)

Oil on canvas. 45 11⁄16 x 31 7⁄8" (116 x 81 cm)

© Pinakothek der Moderne, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich
2

Duplicated Space No. 2

Oil on paper, 50 x 40 cm

Courtesy of Zhang Xiaogang Art Studio © 2013 the artist
Themenacesassassin

L’Assassin menacé (The Menaced Assassin)

Oil on canvas. 59 1⁄4" x 6' 4 7⁄8" (150.4 x 195.2 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Kay Sage Tanguy Fund © Charly Herscovici – ADAGP - ARS, 2013

The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Kay Sage Tanguy Fund © Charly Herscovici – ADAGP - ARS, 2013
7

Train Window-Red Plum

Oil on Canvas, 220 x 140 cm

Courtesy of Zhang Xiaogang Art Studio © 2013 the artist
Laconditionhumaine

La Condition humaine (The Human Condition)

Oil on canvas. 39 3⁄8 x 31 7⁄8" (100 x 81 cm).

National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Gift of the Collector’s Committee 1987.55.1. © Charly Herscovici – ADAGP - ARS, 2013

Latest discussion on:
A Dialogue across Time between Zhang Xiaogang and René Magritte

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"Soul mate"

Posted on 22 Dec

I enjoyed reading Zhang Xiaogang's essay about his development as an artist. It was interesting to learn that the "humorous" Magritte stuck in his head, and to think about art experienced in reproduction vs. art experienced in the original. I found his description of the gap between art writing and art works, and between words and experience insightful, and was especially struck by his description, in 1992, of his first encounter with a Magritte painting "in the flesh." His surprise at how Magritte "reduced colors, shapes . . . [and] painting techniques to the least possible," thereby "surpassing traditional art," was revealing. It is nice to think that Zhang Xiaogang found a "soul mate" in Magritte, across time, cultures, and continents. I hope Magritte too would have smiled at the idea!

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I enjoyed reading Zhang Xiaogang's essay about his development as an artist. It was interesting to learn that the "humorous" Magritte stuck in his head, and to think about art experienced in reproduction vs. art experienced in the original. I...

Show more »
Yuchieh li

Posted on 22 Dec

You observed an important phenomenon of the transmission of ideas on European Modern art in China in the 1980s-- These ideas were in effect detached from their original context (and meaning) as they were “translated” badly, through Chinese texts and the poor quality reproduction of images. Also, looking at the paintings of both Zhang and Magritte, the difference is so striking, yet the works also interact with each other. I think the cultural distance towards both Chinese and Western traditions did become a productive energy for many artists in China.

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You observed an important phenomenon of the transmission of ideas on European Modern art in China in the 1980s-- These ideas were in effect detached from their original context (and meaning) as they were “translated” badly, through Chinese texts...

Show more »

创造的语法

Posted on 31 Dec

我对超现实主义的印象是”心理层面的新鲜感“。 在看到一幅该类画作的时候,去感受新鲜的冲击,去思考”为什么?“,是个很享受的过程。

对于张晓刚先生所言之“绘画的语言学”,我想东方的很多前卫画家应该都会深有同感。虽然超现实主义在中国的蓬勃晚于日韩,但是当代已经可以看见许多中国画家对运用超现实主义的转化语法解释自身的深层思想进行了成功的尝试。

张晓刚先生的作品”Train Window-Red Plum”令我联想到了日本画家船田玉樹(1912-1991)的作品「花の夕」(1938年)。从后者中我们看到的是日本画中自由、大胆的前卫元素,而以中国画中的红梅作为主题的前者似乎也依稀透露出画家对中国文化,环境的情结。

在不经意之间,发现已经有很多艺术史学家开始关注和研究“艺术语法”与“艺术表现”之间的关系。这真的是一个很有意思的问题。

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我对超现实主义的印象是”心理层面的新鲜感“。 在看到一幅该类画作的时候,去感受新鲜的冲击,去思考”为什么?“,是个很享受的过程。

对于张晓刚先生所言之“绘画的语言学”,我想东方的很多前卫画家应该都会深有同感。虽然超现实主义在中国的蓬勃晚于日韩,但是当代已经可以看见许多中国画家对运用超现实主义的转化语法解释自身的深层思想进行了成功的尝试。

张晓刚先生的作品”Train Window-Red Plum”令我联想到了日本画家船田玉樹(1912-1991)的作品「花の夕」(1938年)。...

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Please excuse my barging in on discussion but just purchased for 75 at an antique dealer in Burbank, Ca. He said he had just bought it from a private home, and it had only been on his wall for a week. It's about four feet tall by 3 feet. Shows signs of brushing on silscreening little mesh like it atterns although I no expert. Need help appraising, evaluating, what to do next Help !!!

Philip Kaufman. 573-825-1450

Wp 20150921 002
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Wp 20150921 001
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Please excuse my barging in on discussion but just purchased for 75 at an antique dealer in Burbank, Ca. He said he had just bought it from a private home, and it had only been on his wall for a week. It's about four feet tall by 3 feet. Shows...

Show more »