In the Ashes of History – The exhibition celebrates Zhang Huan as the first Chinese contemporary artist to open a solo exhibition at the State Hermitage Museum

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2020

In the Ashes of History, co-curated by Dimitri Ozerkov, Anastasia Veialko, and Wu Hung. The exhibition celebrates Zhang Huan as the first Chinese contemporary artist to open a solo exhibition at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg — one of the most prestigious museums in the world. The show highlights Zhang Huan’s consistent use of unconventional materials and techniques through works that convey his aesthetic judgment and social critique. The exhibition features more than 30 works from four different series: Ash Paintings, Memory Doors, Love /Reincarnation series and the installation of the Hermitage Buddha. Zhang Huan created My Winter Palace consisting of new works inspired by the artist’s first visit to the Hermitage. The exhibition will be on view at Nicholas Hall of the Winter Palace.

The internationally renowned Chinese artist Zhang Huan has created a series of works inspired by the events of the pandemic. Entitled Love,” the new series has been created specially for the exhibition Zhang Huan: In the Ashes of History which will open at the State Hermitage by the end of 2020. The exhibition was originally due to open at the end of May but has been postponed as a result of the pandemic. It includes more than 30 of the artist’s works, many of them created specifically for the Hermitage. Zhang Huan: In the Ashes of History is the main project of the year for Hermitage and one of key culture events for Russia. 

Finding himself preparing for the exhibition in the middle of a pandemic, the artist decided to create an additional series of works called “Love,” a response to the personal stories of people who have suffered from the virus. The title is a reference to the tragic story of a pregnant woman who died from the coronavirus. “Love” forms part of the “red series” that represented a change in Zhang Huan’s creative course—back to the technique of painting. The first works in the series come under the title Reincarnation (and are also shown at the exhibition). They are characterized by the active use of the colour red on a sterile white background, carried over from work to work in the form of “red rain”; they all share a deep emotional intensity.

Dimitri Ozerkov, exhibition curator and director of the State Hermitage Department of Contemporary Art, describes the cycle thus: “‘Love’ is once again this same white canvas and red acrylic paint in which the rain from Reincarnation is turned into running streams of red paint that enclose a wall-like clot of pulsing, oozing pressure. The emotional intensity of the ‘red series’ is ratcheted up significantly. What image is evoked by this canvas—a torn-out heart? A discarded human embryo? The streaks of paint trickle down as if in silent meltdown, their only wish—to take refuge, to condense, to be saved from the surrounding nightmare.”

The artist himself gives this explanation of the new works: “’Love’ grows from a speck of dust, floating freely in the rays of the sun. The people who loved you and the people you once loved; those you knew and those you did not know; the people you heard about and those who once just lived in this world—each one in the end spends his life here, on this earth. In the vastness of the universe our planet is just a speck in a stream of sunlight. But the energy of the universe comes from love, from this speck in the sun’s rays.”

The exhibition In the Ashes of History consists of works in several series performed in different techniques. In total, about 30 works will be presented at the exposition, many of which were created for the upcoming exhibition under the impression of visiting the Hermitage and St. Petersburg.

Zhang Huan: In the Ashes of History is organized by the Department of Contemporary Art as part of the Hermitage 20/21 project with the assistance of Pearl Lam Gallery and the studio of the artist Zhang Huan. The exhibition’s curators are Dimitri Ozerkov, director of the Department of Contemporary Art, and junior research assistant Anastasia Veialko.

The opening date of the exhibition can be changed and will be confirmed additionally.

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