Highly respected by private collectors and museums, Zeng Fanzhi has been deploying since the 1990s a distinctive language marked by his kinship with both Asian art and the many Western influences he has been subjected to. Confronted with this all-embracing style, the viewer is reminded of Chinese landscape painting at the same time as he thinks of Warhol, Bacon, Balthus and Pollock. The exhibition will remain on view through to 16 February 2014.
Nonetheless, Zeng Fanzhi’s oeuvre can hardly be reduced to an assimilation of traditional and modernist paragons. In his use of many different styles and themes, the artist combines a rigorous spirit of painterly and intellectual investigation with great technical control. Looking at these canvases, the spectator is left facing something infinite, as if pulled into the artist’s inner world.
Zeng Fanzhi’s work mingles the history of China with his own personal history. His memories of a youth spent living near the hospital in Wuhan have left their mark on the early series of pictures, with their depictions of surgical operations, waiting rooms, meat and unclothed bodies. Other works from the 2000s call up China’s past: in Tian’An Men (2004), for example, we recognise Mao. And while the pictures making up the various Mask Series still betray the influence of Pop Art, the recent portraits and landscapes tend towards a darker abstraction. Hatched with brambles and seething with animals and human bodies, his gigantic polyptychs show a restrained expressionism that references German painting, and that of Dürer in particular.
This exhibition offers visitors the chance to discover the whole of Zeng Fanzhi’s career via the presentation of forty paintings and sculptures in reverse order, from 2012 to 1990. In the wake of a number of solo shows – The National Gallery for Foreign Art, Sofia, 2010; Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai, 2010; Francisco Godia Foundation, Barcelona, 2009; Musée d’Art Moderne de Saint-Etienne Métropole, France, 2007 – the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris is offering an interpretation of the oeuvre shaped in close collaboration with the artist himself.
Zeng Fanzhi was born in 1964 in Wuhan, China. In the course of his training at the art school there he got to know both Chinese and Western contemporary art. Driven by these influences and keen to find a more stimulating context, in 1993 he left for Beijing, where he now lives and works.
The lavishly illustrated catalogue is published by Paris Musées. Price: 30 euros.
This exhibition enjoys the generous support of the Yuz Foundation.
Courtesy of the artist and the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, for further information please visit www.mam.paris.fr.