From 19th September to 12th December 2021, Long Museum (Chongqing) will present the exhibition “Zhang Enli: A Room with Colour”. Curated by Wang Wei, director of the Long Museum, is the first major retrospective of Zhang’s works in the Southwest of China. It will feature over 70 works, including urban portraits from the 1990s to the early 2000s, depictions of everyday objects from the 2000s to the 2010s, abstract paintings and “space painting” installations created in recent years, as well as several manuscripts and a video. These works systematically present the artist’s 30-year creative journey.
Zhang’s works have been collected by the Tate Modern, and have been exhibited at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, amongst other institutions. Each stage of Zhang’s works has its own style, but the changes in theme and technique are not sudden, but rather a natural shift in style throughout his work. When we look closely at Zhang’s different series of works, we can perceive the intimate connection between them, that is, the artist’s constant concern for humanity, for everyday objects, for life, and for space.
The first part of the exhibition begins with figurative portraits, created between 1990 and 2005. These depict ordinary people in meat markets, pubs, dance halls, banquets, and baths, which were central themes in the artist’s work from the 1990s to the beginning of the new century. Chinese society in the 1990s experienced rapid change under the wave of reform, with people reveling in the new and trendy consumer culture brought about by rapid urbanization. As a marginalized artist in a neglected corner of Shanghai, Zhang was both a calm observer and an active participant in the whirlwind of the times in which he lived. The imagery in his paintings come from friends and colleagues around him, such as a woman walking down the street, people buying food in the vegetable market, and so on. Through the observation of different characters and scenery, the essence of the artist’s exploration is reflected: a constant concern for the human condition, as well as for himself, which has been present throughout his entire artistic career.
The second part of the exhibition is a continuation of the series of everyday objects from 2003 to the 2010s, ranging from figurative “objects” to universal “objects” that use pure blocks of colour, line, and shape as a means of expression. The object is a functional presence that is always associated with people, but it is also an ordinary reality of existence in space. The presence of objects tells an implicit narrative about people, and as a universal presence in the human environment, it reflects the state of human life. The everyday objects series has been an iconic period throughout the artist’s career for over a decade, and the objects in this exhibition include leather tubes, cardboard boxes, ball nets, mattresses, iron frame beds, mosaic containers, trees, lamps, sofas, and much more. Zhang’s paintings have shifted from the noisy and loud expression of “People” to the silent period of “Objects”, with works such as “Container”, “Rope and leather tube”, “Tree”, and “Mosaic” being the main inspirational pieces for development, as well as for the exploration of abstract space paintings.
The third part of the exhibition is the “Portrait series”, featuring new works from the last three years. Zhang reinterprets the impressions that remain in his mind onto canvas, through colour, form, composition, mood, and spatial feeling. They are abstract in expression, but all have a figurative name, often named after the character’s occupation, state, experience and other characteristics. The titles of the pieces represent the artist’s exploration of the influence of the subconscious mind on memory and the abstract understanding of different characters states. Starting from the traces left in the depths of memory, the artist’s scribbles represent moments from the past, whilst improvising to capture the changes in personal psychology and environment in the present, condensing multiple dimensions of time, space, events, and individual reality onto the same piece of work. The seemingly irregular use of lines, blocks of colour and brush strokes are influenced from Zhang’s experience of traditional painting. Through time, by breaking down one’s inner habits and integrating the subtle perceptions of the external environment, the original strength and power of painting is achieved.
In addition, it is also worth mentioning that Zhang will present three “Space painting” installations in accordance with the spatial structure of Long Museum (Chongqing), including the large-scale cardboard box installation “Three-Storied Tower” (2020) in the atrium on the ground floor, “The Colourful Floor” (2019) in the exhibition hall on the first floor, and “The Pendulous Pipe” (2014). Through these works, viewers can see Zhang’s innate heightened sensitivity to space and painting. The artist’s use of cardboard boxes to construct large-scale painting installations echoes his long-standing concern with everyday objects. It is precisely these ordinary objects that make it easier for the viewer to enter his work and be moved by it.
About the Artist
Zhang Enli was born in Jilin province in 1965. He graduated from Wuxi Technical University, Arts and Design Institute in 1989. Zhang currently is living and working in Shanghai. Mundane objects and the traces of daily life activities are the dominant depicted subjects in Zhang Enli’s works. The muted tones and loose washes of paint intertwine with the expressive lines and curves that make the objects seem removed as if occupying a liminal reality where only the essence of the object is portrayed on the canvas. In his series of installations, known as Space Paintings, he creates the immersive space that suspends the audience into the void of time and space by incorporating with environment, history, and personal experience. Zhang Enli’s depiction on the prosaic aspects of contemporary life leads viewers to think about the proposition of existence.
Zhang Enli’s work has been featured in numerous important exhibitions, including Long Museum Chongqing (2021); Power Station of Art, Shanghai (2020); Hauser & Wirth, Zurich (2020); Xavier Hufkens, Brussels, Belgium (2019); Galleria Borghese, Rome, Italy (2019); K11 Art Foundation (2019); Royal Academy of Arts, London, UK (2018); Hauser & Wirth, New York (2018); Firstsite, Colchester, England (2017); Moca, Taipei, China (2015); ShanghART, Shanghai, China (2015); Hauser & Wirth, London (2014); K11 Art Foundation, HK, China (2014); Villa Croze, Genoa, Italy (2013); Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, England (2013); Shanghai Art Museum, Shanghai, China (2011); Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai, China (2010); and Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, England (2009), a presentation which travelled to Kunsthalle Bern, Berne, Switzerland (2009) etc.
Zhang Enli’s work was also featured in UCCA Edge, Shanghai (2021); Fondazione Prada, Italy (2018), the Museum of Modern Art Antwerp, Belgium (2018); 1st Antarctic Biennale, Antarctica (2017); Centre Pompidou, Paris, France (2016); PAC-Milan Museum of Contemporary Art, Italy (2015); Lehmbruck Museum, Duisburg, Germany (2015); Tate Modern, London (2015); the Yokohama Triennale, Japan (2014); Vancouver Art Gallery, Canada (2014); Contemporary Art Museum of the Rubell Family Collection, Miami, U.S.A. (2013); Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham, U.K.(2013); Kochi-Muziris, Kochi, India (2012); The First Chinese Oil Painting Biennial, Instituto Paranaense de Arte, Curitiba, Brazil (2011); The Eighth Gwangju Biennale, Korea (2010); The 7th Shanghai Biennale, Shanghai(2008); Villa Manin-Centre for Contemporary Art Passariano, Italy (2006) etc.