Lot 1080
  • 1080

Zhang Enli

1,600,000 - 2,500,000 HKD
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  • Zhang Enli
  • The Rest of the Paint No. 2
  • oil on canvas
signed in Chinese and dated 2011; signed and titled in Chinese, dated 2011 on the reverse


Hauser & Wirth, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 2011

Catalogue Note

Visual Ascension
Zhang Enli

Containers are a subject that have played a crucial role in Zhang Enli's creative history, and might even be called his signature motif. Three of his Buckets are on permanent display at the Tate Modern in England. The containers are psychologically suggestive; as the artist sees it, they represent a generation of Chinese people without heritage. “This generation, we have no inheritance”, Zhang Enli explains. “When we were young, our families never had any possessions. All of our things could fit in a few boxes”.1 A turning point in Zhang Enli's career came in the year 2000, when he began painting a series of inanimate objects. He expressed themes of isolation and emptiness in his widely popular Container series, in which boxes, bowls, buckets and other empty containers are all painted against lacklustre backdrops, and for the artist these objects are containers that bear the weight of everyday life. Containers are an extension of the body, and became his most important theme in the 2000s. Zhang says, "Departing from the simple notion of transforming the body into a container, you can imagine the body as a box, a sink, a tree, an empty room, right down to an ashtray and a packet of cigarettes. From the tiny details you can discover an object's essence or core, and this becomes the symbol of a 'container'." 2 The Rest of the Paint No. 2 (Lot 1080), a work that epitomises the Container series, was created in 2011. The dimensions of the piece are massive: two metres by two and a half metres. Containers of various sizes, including buckets, bottles, cups, and dishes, are depicted Zhang Enli's clear and fluent oil painting. Gathered together in one corner of the artist's studio, these objects reveal the poetic beauty of the everyday and quotidian.


The unique language of Zhang Enli's paintbrush occupies an important and prominent place in the world of contemporary Chinese art. Zhang was born in 1965 and, like many other artists of his generation, did not begin to attract the art world's attention until the early 2000s. Unlike mainstream artists from the 1960s, Zhang eschews Chinese political ideology and the empty materialism of the nineties, and refuses to satirise or despair of current political realities; his focus has always been on his canvas and the tip of his brush, scrutinising the painting itself in search of the secrets to life and mortality behind everyday objects and spaces, shuttling to and fro between different realities. Like the art critic Gu Zheng wrote during the artist's 2010 solo exhibition, "At a time when it is fashionable in the Chinese art world to ascribe too much external meaning to works of art, [Zhang's] paintings, and every single stroke within them, flatly refuse to give you a straightforward statement or declaration. He wants his audience to recall and reflect with him the essence of painting, and with his colours and his lines helps the audience slowly explore the trivial matters of this world, which he depicts in such a simple yet sublime way."3 Over the course of time, these paintings, focusing on senses and experiences and brimming with individuality and poetry, have thoroughly cemented Zhang's place in the art world. His works are acclaimed and collected by a number of international art galleries, including the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

Born in Jilin in 1965 and a graduate of the Arts & Design Institute at Wuxi Technical University, Zhang Enli's earlier works were predominantly inspired by his first impressions of Shanghai. In 2000, Zhang held his first solo exhibition, "Dancing", at the ShanghART Gallery, where he displayed his early explorations of humanity and psychology in a style that was clearly influenced by German Expressionism. Later, the artist shifted his focus from people to still life: he sought to capture the poetic beauty of mundane objects. Since then, Zhang has been creating a series of still life paintings, including the Container collection, which explored themes of loneliness and emptiness and eventually brought him fame. To speak only of effectiveness, Zhang Enli’s painting very successfully interprets what is “the richness in simplicity, the gorgeous in the unadorned, the ostentatious in the subdued, the tension in the relaxed, the extravagant in the plain, and the bountiful in the restrained.” The current fashion of the Chinese art world is to bestow a plethora of external meaning upon one’s artwork, yet Zhang Enli’s works, each brushstroke, resolutely rejects any advertisement of a direct declaration or manifesto. Instead, he invites the viewer to make a return to considering the original nature of painting, to take the path belonging to the everyday trivialities of the world, which he portrays with pure yet gorgeous colours and lines. The use of “gorgeous” here implies not the artist’s depiction of objects in a way that makes them superficially beautiful and gorgeous, but rather refers to his sincere glorification and exalting of the objects. In this way, the objects are rinsed clean of their superficial glitz, exuding the miraculous in the gorgeous, and the gorgeous in the miraculous. Once, in an interview, he confidently remarked, “I don’t like to portray beautiful things in a beautiful way.” This sentiment chimes with the words of Flaubert, who was known for “thrilling portrayals of the mundane.” In other words, through his individual and profound observation, the artist was able to extract and reconstruct prosaic everyday objects and elevate them into objects of visual magnificence.

1 Hans Ulrich Obrist: The China Interviews, Office for Discourse Engineering

2 refer to 1

3 "Zhang Enli's Paintings, Chapter 2" "Zhang Enli", Minsheng Art Museum, 2010