This Zhang Huan exhibition in Florence in October 2013 was very impressive, and one which we were lucky enough to visit. The backdrop of the city of Florence spread out below the Forte di Belvedere was spectacular.
In 2006 Zhang took up sculpture after converting to Buddhism. He also involved the body in his sculptures; his earliest sculptures were giant copper hands and feet, magnified versions of fragments of broken Buddhist figures that he found in Tibet.
He seeks to discover the point at which the spiritual can manifest via the corporeal. He uses simple repetitive gestures, usually regarded as meaningless work-for-work’s-sake chores. Buddhism, with its temple music, sculptures and philosophy are a prevalent theme in Zhang Huan’s work.
“Art cannot change the world but it can raise the questions and help more people to think about the future in a wider contest”
The official comments follow. “Within the exhibition The Soul and The Matter, dedicated to Zhang Huan, one of the most interesting Chinese contemporary artists and a leading figure in the international scenario, the visitors were accompanied through an artistic itinerary starting from Palazzo Vecchio, the symbol of Florentine civil power, and reaching Forte di Belvedere, a historically rich place set in a splendid landscape. In this extraordinary context, the displayed works showed the most recent poetic creations of Zhang Huan, an artist capable of renovating the language of Chinese contemporary art and much more. The dialogue between past and current cultures, images and symbols, and different societies and religious practices is at the basis of this project”.
“The exhibition within Palazzo Vecchio, was dedicated to sculpture, and allowed for the discovery of the subjects and materials of an artist who inseparably ties his work to Buddhism. The comparison between Christ’s and Buddha’s images and a portrait of Confucius in the Salone dei Cinquecento, where imposing paintings of political character can be seen, propose an unusual combination of religious values, art forms, traditions and practices from the past. The exhibition ideally continues onward in a more anthological development at to Forte di Belvedere, where monumental sculptures, for the first time in Italy, were displayed outside on the external terracing for the first time in Italy. The complex hosts large portraits made with incense ashes and works in cowskin, displaying images from a past China surfacing from within the memory of the artist”.
The ability of the artist to create aesthetic and cultural connections between the Florentine Renaissance and the Chinese civilizations is reminiscent of the Silk Road which connected the East to the West. The exhibition also offers a privileged key in understanding contemporary China, a fascinating and complex reality which, not only today, is an economic power, but moreover, an extraordinary laboratory of art and culture.