Exhibition room 2. Zhang Hongtu

Born in China in 1943, Zhang survived the Cultural Revolution and emigrated to the United States in 1982, where he eventually became a U.S. citizen. As a Muslim, he feels little connection to mainstream Chinese culture or to the Communist state: “I’m Chinese Muslim. I don’t care about anything pure—pure Chinese culture, or pure European culture. I don’t think anything is pure. I just want to mix, and from that mixture to make something new.” His choice of Cubism to attack the Chinese Communist Party certainly manifests that intellectual flexibility. Like Kuitca, Zhang understands the remarkable freedom that Cubism offers artists, and he marshals the full range of its visual and verbal elements to orchestrate an indictment that thrusts the often arcane hermeticism of Picasso’s practice into the mainstream of contemporary political protest. Zhang’s Bird’s Nest is as much a child of Guernica as it is of the Demoiselles.

Zhang Hongtu’s Bird’s Nest, in the Style of Cubism exploits this range to articulate a remarkable collision between a visual style of the early twentieth century and the politics of the twenty-first. Asked to prepare a work for an exhibition to be held at the German embassy in Beijing during the 2008 summer Olympics, Zhang chose the style of high Analytic Cubism for an ironic comment on the event’s central feature, the purpose-built stadium known as the “Bird’s Nest.”

To deconstruct this icon both physically and ideologically, he used the geometric elements, somber palette, and fugitive passages of Cubism: besides repeating fragmentary schemas of the stadium, he borrowed Picasso’s and Braque’s resort to numbers and language to augment the ambiguity of their nearly abstract fields, and his texts drive home his criticisms of the Chinese government, which promoted the Beijing Olympics as a showcase of China’s success. [...]

Source: exhibition catalogue for “Post-Picasso: Contemporary Reactions,” Michael FitzGerald