Capturing time and space in one exhibition

Wang Jie
Artist Zhao Zhao manages to club together different periods of civilizations at his solo exhibition at the Long Museum (West Bund).
Wang Jie

Few artists can manage to club together different periods of civilizations in one exhibition.

Zhao Zhao has managed to do just that at his solo exhibition at the Long Museum (West Bund).

Curated by Cui Cancan, this is Zhao's first major exhibit in Shanghai and covers a wide field of work, from painting to sculpture, installation and other art forms.

The exhibition runs until April 3.

It begins with "Constellation," which Zhao says "is a portrait of time and space."

In fact, "Constellation" and "Sky" are two of his largest painting series. They are metaphors for time and space. One comes from the boundless night and the other comes from the vast blue sky.

"Constellation" was inspired by a cracked windshield after the artist was involved in a car accident.

According to Zhao, the "unexpected cracks and scattered chips" resembled the constellations. With the passage of time, the impetus behind this story and the cracked glass both lost their original forms.

Perhaps that might explain the aesthetic form that a moment of violence was transformed into the eternal quiet of the tableau.

Capturing time and space in one exhibition


The "Sky" series stems from his travels to different countries over the past decade. It contains portions of the sky from the Renaissance paintings, the clouds from antique Chinese paintings, the cerulean sky over Manhattan, a patch of Prussian blue sky above a small European town, or the changing view from a narrow window in Beijing.

Zhao, who was born in 1982 in northwest China's Xinjiang, splits his time between Beijing and Los Angeles. In 2019, he won the Artist of the Year Award at the 13th Award of Art China.

In his works, Zhao prefers to be engaged with real subjects in multiple mediums and plays with art forms. Visitors to the exhibition will find the earliest piece of human traces from the Jurassic period, followed by a stone plow from the Neolithic period, one of the earliest tools of production. Then there is the pre-dynastic jade discs, sculptures from Sui and Tang dynasties (AD 581-907) and modern screws and earphones. Some are fossils and antiques collected over the years by the artist.

"My teacher guided me to paint the antiques at the archaeological site," he said.

"Some of the antique pieces are quite common, not as valuable as you might expect.

But they do reveal where my inspirations come from. These objects from different times and space share one common trait – they are the culmination of the creativity of human beings, and some of them surpass time."

Sometimes Zhao tries to dig out his own interpretations from these objects, such as his work "Control," which consists of several gourds. In fact, gourds have a long history in China. In traditional Chinese culture, the gourd is a key ritual instrument and auspicious object among Taoists, as well as a token on which the literati display their aspirations and sentiments.

However, due to the erosion of time, gourds became instruments of prayer, and people projected more secular desires onto these distinctively shaped plants as they pursued ultimate perfection.

Even a gourd's growth is a controlled process, as its natural, living beauty takes on an altered and perfect form. Craft interventions have been made in the growth of gourds. Molds are placed on small gourds, which then grow over time into the shapes that the craftsman desires.

The three gourds on display look different when viewed from a close distance. One is a gourd that cracked during the molding process, and the third is an artificially controlled perfect shape.

The work reflects how gourds grow differently in controlled environments, a concern that permeates his work and thinking.

Another highlight of the exhibition is Zhao's application of cotton, perhaps largely due to his early days in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

Zhao used to pick cotton when he was in the middle school to high school. The artist has tried to fuse cotton with new meanings by placing, pressing and dyeing them into a somewhat abstract painting.

Zhao also deals with the subject of life and death in his work "Extremis," which is arranged at the end of the exhibition. The black tar covers the whole ground of the exhibition hall, where the hazy and solemn pieces of copper with a special gleam are randomly scattered on it. Apparently, the artist endeavors to broaden these symbolic objects under such a mass-like atmosphere.

Capturing time and space in one exhibition


Exhibition info

Dates: Through April 5 (closed on Mondays), 10am-5:30pm

Ticket: 280 yuan

Venue: Long Museum (West Bund)

龙美术馆 (西岸馆)

Address: 3398 Longteng Avenue


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