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zhang huan:

altered states asía socíety

Zhang Huan was born in 1965 in Anyang, in the Henan province and moved to Beijing in 1991. There he became part of a group of radical artists and gained notoriety for his photographs and his performance work, most of which took place in the artist enclave known as the East Village. As of 1998, when he was invited to New York by the Asia Society, he has performed internationally in a large number of venues in many cities: New York, Seattle, Cincinnati, Boston, Ghent, Santiago, Yokohama, Hamburg, Copenhagen, Sydney, Rome and Bern. In the last two years Huan has returned to China. He has opened a studio in Shanghai and left photography and performance to concentrate on paintings and monumental sculptures made out of ashes from burnt offerings.

Zhang Huan is an intense artist. In photographs and performances that compare to the work of Chris Burden, Marina Abramovic and Gina Pane, he provokes and explores extreme, painful or absurd situations, testing his naked body's endurance and limits.

"The body," he said, " is the only direct way through which I came to know society and society came to know me." In Pilgrimage, for instance, a 1998 performance done at P.S.1 after he settled in New York, he lay still on a block of ice cut to fit a traditional Chinese bed frame until his body temperature was dangerously low. "I do like the city," he commented "but at the same time I have an unnamable fear. I want to feel it with my body, just as I feel the ice. I try to make it melt in the way I tried to melt the ice with the warmth of my body." In My New York, a 2002 performance held near the Whitney Museum, he was wearing a heavy body suit stitched out of raw meat in a cruel parody of muscle men. 12 square meters took place in a filthy public latrine in a Beijing suburb where he covered his naked body with fish oil and honey, soon to be covered in flies. A recent series, the Memory Doors, combines screen prints of Chinese historical photographs taken between the 1920s and the 1970s with carved parts of heavy wooden doors collected in Shanxi province. The photographs relate to historical events such as model agricultural units, the construction of buildings and dams or political meetings and their spirit is a mix of irony and nostalgia.

My favorite work by Zhang Huan is a sequence of nine photographs, Family Tree. The artist asked three calligraphers to write texts on his face. What begins as an exercise in beauty soon progresses to a much more disquieting vision as the calligraphers keep writing, entirely engulfing his face in black ink. Just the eyes and the mouth remain, floating on a black sea of words that have returned to a dark silence.

post-war perspectives laurence mller gallery

Museum-like in its scope and ambition, this exhibition seeks to capture the spirit of postwar Europe, the United States, Japan and China through more than fifty images made between 1945 and 1960. The period is complex and cannot be summed up easily. The feelings embodied in the photographs are mixed — a sense of freedom and liberation, a desire to

Peter Keetman
Zhang Huan, Family Tree, 2000; courtesy the Asia society.

explore and experiment, but also an immense sadness at Europe's wreckage, perhaps best exemplified by Peter Keetman's bird's eye view of Munich's rubble in 1948, before any reconstruction had taken place "No car, no tram," he wrote on the back, "only a few human beings." All the famous names are here — from Cartier-Bresson to William Klein to Robert Frank, Bruce Davidson, Helen Levitt and many others — but the main pleasure is in the discoveries: either little-known photographers, or little-known images by photographers we thought we knew, make up the bulk of the show. Joan Colom is a Spanish Brassai. His images of nightlife in Barcelona are stunning, as is his mysterious picture of a Semana Santa procession in Spain, featuring hooded penitents. Their Easter candles extend into a long arc, fading into the night. Ed Van der Elsken contributes several pictures, one from Hong Kong, and another, a whimsical street scene of three boys with cutout cardboard armor proudly posing. Fan Ho's narrow vertical image of a child running away between gleaming railroad tracks exemplifies solitude. Giacomelli's joyful children running in the waves fade out, as if sun-bleached, into a background abstraction, a melee of limbs. Jerry Uelsmann's mechanical man and Frederick Sommer's Circumnavigation of the Blood, mysterious faces made up of magazine cutouts, looking like an Archimboldo painting, represent a more surrealist approach, while Charles Harbutt, Louis Stettner, Ted Croner and Fred Herzog are examples of urban reportage. I do miss photographs from Dave Heath's seminal book

Dialogue With Solitude. The book was published in 1965, and Heath had worked on it for ten years. But on the whole this is a beautiful exhibition, where the images seem poised between hope and memory.

lee friedlander: a ramble in olmsted parks

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