UCCA Beijing

Zhao Gang: The Road to Serfdom

2015.4.3 - 2015.5.31

Cocksucker Blues (detail)

Oil on canvas

2014-2015

600 x 400 cm

Courtesy the artist

About

Location:  Nave and Long Gallery

The wandering cosmopolitan intellectual, called back to the motherland from studies and travels abroad to aid selflessly in building the nation, is a trope of modern Chinese history. A generation of leading scholars, their passions ignited by the nationalist awakening of the 1919 May Fourth Movement, sought advanced education in Japan, Europe, and the United States before returning to the caves of Yan’an. They moved from there into the cultural and academic establishment of the early People’s Republic, and ultimately, in many cases, to premature ends during the
various campaigns that followed.

The stories of these figures resonate deeply for Zhao Gang (b. 1961, Beijing), who might have been one of them had he been born six or seven decades earlier. Instead he was to become the youngest member of the Stars Group, participating in some of post-1949 China’s earliest modern art exhibitions before embarking on an extended sojourn in Germany and New York. He returned to his hometown in the years just before the Beijing Olympics, armed with an intuitive understanding of the absurdity of his own class position and historical fate, and deeply amused by the idea that, in China today, there is room for a history painter with his dark sense of irony.

For this exhibition, titled after Friedrich von Hayek’s 1944 treatise on the perils of a planned economy, Zhao Gang began with a found image of “Elite from China’s Republican Era” forwarded to him by a friend, eventually taking a long road trip to the homes of the men it pictured. A massive portrait of this revered, unfortunate group is offset by quieter images, painted and photographed, of the towns from which they come and the spaces they once inhabited. Further paintings riff
on related themes: the legacy of imperial systems, political and aesthetic; the inevitability of death; and, amidst it all, the awkward position of the artist and his
fraught medium of painting.

“Zhao Gang: The Road to Serfdom” is curated by UCCA Director Philip Tinari with Assistant Curator Guo Xi. The exhibition catalogue is sponsored by aye gallery, Galerie Christian Nagel, and Post Wave Publishing Consulting. Special thanks to Davidoff Art Initiative and Beijing WeiJi Preservation International Center Company for their additional support.

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Download “Zhao Gang: The Road to Serfdom”press release.

About the Artist

Zhao Gang (b. 1961, Beijing) made his artistic debut as a member of the Stars Group, one of the first avant-garde artist groups to open the era of contemporary art in China, when he was just 18 years old.  Shortly thereafter he pursued formal art education in Europe then New York, where he lived for over two decades, developing a diverse body of work as his perspective became distinctively international.  Over the course of his wanderings, Zhao Gang has been featured alongside prominent Chinese painters Liu Wei and David Diao; participated in PERFORMA, the Guangzhou Triennial, and the Yokohama Triennial; presented his solo exhibition “Sick Man” at the Today Art Museum in Beijing; and exhibited elsewhere in the United States, Germany, China, France, and Japan.  Since returning to Beijing in 2004, Zhao Gang has turned his ever-expanding focus toward the entanglement of his personal past with Chinese history and his unique position, at once a native and a newcomer, in China today.

Works in the exhibition

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Zhao Gang

Pics of the Road

2014-2015
Black and white photograph
25 x 17 cm
Courtesy the artist

Zhao Gang

Pics of the Road

2014-2015
Black and white photograph
25 x 17 cm
Courtesy the artist

Zhao Gang

Home for the Elite

2014-2015
Oil on canvas
162 x 200 cm
Private collection

Zhao Gang

Cocksucker Blues

2014-2015
Oil on canvas
600 x 400 cm
Courtesy the artist

Zhao Gang

It's me. Yesterday

2014-2015
Oil on canvas
130 x 155 cm
Private collection

Zhao Gang

A Corridor of the Classroom

2014-2015
Oil on canvas
280 x 200 cm
Frank F. Yang Collection

Zhao Gang

Classroom

2014-2015
Oil on canvas
300 x 200 cm
Private collection

Zhao Gang

Hi-tech

2014-2015
Oil on canvas
202 x 160 cm
Courtesy the artist

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