See Artist Chen Zhen Fuse French and Chinese Culture at Hong Kong's de Sarthe Gallery

Chen Zhen - "The Deep Sleep Series," 1992, água, areia, metal, madeira, objetos de vidro, papel de arroz.
(© Chen Zhen; Cortesia de Sarthe Gallery)

WHAT: “Chen Zhen”

WHEN: Through January 7, 2012

WHERE: de Sarthe Gallery, 16 Ice House Street, Central, Hong Kong

WHY THIS SHOW MATTERS: Over the short life of contemporary Chinese artist Chen Zhen — he died from an autoimmune disease in 2000 at the age of 45 — the artist created a body of work intimately connected to his Chinese roots while simultaneously embracing the Western aesthetics he was surrounded by all his life. Born in Shanghai in 1955, Chen Zhen moved to Paris in the 1980s. Yet, while many of his peers in the Chinese contemporary art movements of the 1980s and 1990s created canvases which were immediately identifiable as Chinese with their Revolution-era imagery and appropriation, Chen was fabricating mammoth installations. His work always encompassed a duality — he strove to be understood across two cultures.

His massive work “Daily Incantations” is so large that the de Sarthe gallery has had to display it in a separate, off-site location, along with another large scale installation, “Opening of a Closed Centre." In this latter work a wooden lattice frame encloses, almost imprisons, a collection of Chinese furniture. In “Daily Incantations,” an amphitheatre of wooden Chinese chamber pots surrounds a metal sphere of modern detritus. Both installations marry the aesthetics of opposing worlds, creating a tension and drama that shows the artist reaching his full stride.

During his career, Chen exhibited at New York's New Museum of Contemporary Art in 1994 and at the Guggenheim Museum Soho in 1998, as well as extensively throughout Europe. In order to put together this small but resonant show of Chen’s works, Pascal de Sarthe sought out a number of European and American collectors. It is only now that Chen Zhen has begun to be recognized within the Chinese contemporary art market — this exhibition marks a shift in Chen's standing as an internationally collectible artist. It is arbitrary and sentimental to hypothesize about where an artist of Chen’s caliber would have taken his work had he lived. It would seem that his legacy has been to establish a distinctive “cross-cultural” perspective, which can now be recognized as a pioneering and deeply prophetic approach.

To see images of Chen Zhen’s work, click on the slide show.