The Long Museum will present Zhao Gang’s solo exhibition Domestic Anxiety in the staircase gallery from May 16 through July 18, 2021. Domestic Anxiety will showcase several massive- and medium-scale still lifes created in the last two years, a series of medium-scale abstract paintings, as well as a large narrative painting created in 2017. Gang’s art explores the relationships between fluid individual identities, conflicting cultures, and the ruptured historical era. The recent paintings transcribe an individual’s emotional responses to specific historical moments and cultural contexts into a stream-of-consciousness–style visual monologue. Through his creative practice, Gang seeks freedom and truth in an increasingly convoluted social discourse.
We can tentatively interpret the title Domestic Anxiety as “a house-husband’s anguish,” referring to the culinary expert and chef Zhao Gang’s daily, year-long cooking obligations for his family during the pandemic. It further implies his alternative identity as a chef—cooking as a means of alleviating his perennial, perpetual anxiety.
The exhibition is curated by Lu Mingjun, a curator and art historian, who juxtaposes Gang’s abstract paintings with his still lifes. “The former concerns forms, originating from texts; the latter imagery—a corner of kitchen or dining room. If abstract art is his spiritual practice, still lifes demonstrate his mundane, bodily operations. Both are inspired by his personal experiences, but their inherent differences signal his split personality and unconscious anxiety,” Lu said.
The seven massive scale still lifes mark yet another major breakthrough in Zhao Gang’s four-decade painting career. By depicting meat, fruits, seafood, wine bottles, and wine glasses—objects embody “eternity” as Gang would claim—the artist renders the sentimentality of an era wherein he is a misfit to his contemporary, and where his stream-of-consciousness constantly surges forth from the depths of his soul without leaving an echo. The largest painting, Bloody Romance (2021), measuring 8 by 4m, appears to be comprised of flesh and flower from a distance. But as one approaches to within an arm’s length, that is, enveloped in the physicality of the moment the artist painted it, the contours of the objects fade; one is left facing abstract colors and lines wherein the artist’s deep emotions are curdling, throbbing, erupting.
This contrast between the distant/concrete and the closeup/abstract demonstrates that Zhao Gang has entered a new stage of artistic experimentation. Born in 1961 and raised in Beijing, Gang was once the youngest member of the Stars Art Group, engaging with Beijing’s underground art scene during the late 1970s. In 1983, he left China to study in Europe and the Unites States. After living in New York for 23 years and mingling in local art scene, Gang returned to China in 2006. Since then, he has regularly held exhibitions in Europe and the United States. As one of a few artists navigating the two different painting contexts in China and the West, he has experimented with landscapes, abstraction, history, portraits, figures, still lifes, and other classic painting genres and themes. In 2019, starting from a huge figure painting, Gang created a series of abstract paintings. Now, through his recent massive-scale still lifes and medium-sized abstract paintings, Gang again calls for the abstract, establishing a new visual narrative within the widening void of incongruity between the concrete and the abstract.
As Lu Mingjun said: “This exhibition arose from Zhao Gang’s long-time rumination. Gang has been waiting several years for such an opportunity to reveal his self to the public in a decisive and unreserved manner.”
About the Artist
Zhao Gang (b. 1961, Beijing) currently lives and works in New York and Beijing. He 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 and then New York, studying at the State Academy of Fine Art, Maastricht, Holland; Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, USA; MFA, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, USA. Afterwards, Zhao Gang lived overseas for over two decades, developing a diverse body of work as his perspective became distinctively international. Since returning to Beijing in 2006, 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.
His selected solo exhibitions include: “Domestic Anxiety” (Long Museum West Bund, Shanghai, China, 2021); “Chinese Eastern Railway: Zhao Gang” (Long March Space, Beijing, China, 2020); “Zhao Gang 21st: Supports / ColorLumps as Anthropography of History” (Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts, Taipei, Taiwan, 2020); “History Painting” (Peréz Art Museum Miami, Miami, USA, 2019); “Acquiring Identity” (Long March Space, Beijing, China, 2018); “The Road to Serfdom II” (Museo de ArteContemporáneo, Santiago, Chile, 2016); “Paramour’s Garden” (Suzhou Museum, Suzhou, China, 2015); “The Road to Serfdom” (Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, China, 2015); “Sick Man: Zhao Gang” (Today Art Museum, Beijing, China, 2011).
His selected group exhibitions include “AND NOW: The Second Decade of The White Rabbit Collection” (White Rabit Gallery, Sydney, Australia, 2020); “Turning Point – 40 years of Chinese Contemporary Art” (Long Museum West Bund, Shanghai, China, 2018); “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World” (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, USA, 2017); “The Door” (P.S.1 Institute of the Arts/Blum Helman Gallery, New York, USA, 1990). He has participated in important biennial/triennial exhibitions such as PERFORMA 07, Guangzhou Triennial, Yokohama Triennial, etc.
About the Curator
LU Mingjun is a curator and a researcher of School of Philosophy at Fudan University. Recent curated exhibitions include “Frontier: Re-assessment of Post-Globalisational Politics”(2017-2018), “Assembling”(2019),“River Flowing without a Beacon, 1979” (2019),“Corner Square Montage”(2019), “Muses, Yu Gong and Compasses”(2020). Recent publications include “Poetic Justice” (2019); “Revolution of Art and Modern China: Radical Origins of Chinese Contemporary Art”(2020). 2015 Awarded the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation China Research Grant; 2016 Recipient of the Yishu Award for Writing on Contemporary Chinese Art; 2017 Awarded Asia Cultural Council Fellowship; 2017 Recipient of the CCAA Chinese Contemporary Art Critic Award; 2019 Recipient of the Award of Art China (AAC).