Sint-Lievens-Houtem, Cotthem Gallery, Is it possible to fall in love?, January - September 2004
Belgium, Beaufort Triennial for Contemporary Art by the Sea, 2003, p. 8, illustrated in color
Zhang Huan is widely recognized as among the most important artists of his generation and the first dedicated performance artist in modern China. Grounding his work in the experiences to which he subjects his body and in the relationship of the present to the past, Zhang has produced a wide body of iconic works that are the most widely recognized images of Chinese contemporary art.
The expressive qualities of his performances and sculptures derive from an inward focus upon psychological mastery and endurance that takes on powerful allegorical implications of the whole of humanity’s experience. In this way, the artist’s use of his body as physical, material form resonates with metaphysical even religious overtones that convey a nonsectarian, oracular message to contemporary society.
A work of monumental grandeur, Peace II features the artist’s cast body painted gold, hanging as the clapper for a large bronze bell, his head adorned with a golden nimbus. The figure is suspended, however, in such a way that the bell is likely to remain forever silent: positioned both beyond reach and upright like a long pendulum, the figure hangs in silent contemplation above humanity’s turmoil below.
As a marker of time, of public gatherings, and of the sacred itself in a variety of cultures, the bell is rich in significance. The text inscribed upon Zhang’s Peace II is derived from interviews the artist conducted with ordinary people in Nanjing in December of 2000; asking them what they would do to change the world, Zhang has memorialized for posterity their replies on the bell’s surface. The work is inspired by the familiar story Yu Gong Yu Shan (Man Move the Mountain), which is an ancient meditation on humanity’s ability to effect change.
Peace II is an eloquent expression of the artist’s stance on the human spirit’s fate in the world – both powerless to effect great change yet persisting heroically in its dreams for a better future. Eyes closed, silent and still, the saintly figure of the artist is not an intercessor on behalf of a humanity seeking redemption from a great beyond. Instead, he is emblematic of our collective, humanist aspiration to improve our lot in the here and now. The artist points the way towards a slower, meditative, reflective method that seems contrary to the fast-paced, short-sighted decision-making of contemporary society. In this sense, the meditative tone Peace II silently strikes may seem somehow archaic. Instead, we might consider this the work’s most enduring lesson and the work itself among the artist's finest achievements.
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