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Traditional clay collides with contemporary culture in exhibition

February 05, 2010

The ASU Art Museum presents San Francisco-based artist Wanxin Zhang’s exhibition, Wanxin Zhang: A Ten Year Survey,  running now through May 1. The exhibition features monumental figures in clay that are a marriage of historical Asian references with contemporary culture.

Inspired by the soldiers of the Qin Terra-cotta Army unearthed in Xian, China, in 1974, Zhang’s large-scale terra-cotta figures cross over from history into today’s culture. His works are marked by a collision of cultures. He draws manner of dress, hair fashion and calligraphy from Chinese culture. Zhang then combines American peculiarities as ironic twists, such as a Mickey Mouse hat, basketball, skateboard, or an ordinary tourist’s camera, which dangles off the shoulders of a figure reeking of 2,000 years of history.

“Many years ago, I was standing in front of the Qin’s Terra-cotta Army in the museum in Xian. As I faced thousands of armed soldiers underground, I was shocked," Zhang says. “I silently asked myself: Who were they? Where did they come from? Why are they standing here? Even though many years had passed, the first impression I received of the pieces is still in my mind. I anticipate that my works of art can raise the same questions for the audience.”

Chinese-born artist Wanxin Zhang grew up during the restrictive political climate of Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution but was drawn to American culture, wanting to see paintings and sculptures that were known to him only through books. An accomplished artist with works already in China’s National Fine Arts Museum, Zhang eventually settled in San Francisco, a city rich in diversity with an established Chinese community. There, he encountered the Bay Area ceramic art scene, to which he felt an immediate affinity. Not only did he work with Peter Voulkos at the artist’s Oakland foundry, but he had first-hand contact with many of the innovative Bay Area Funk artists.

Zhang is indicative of China’s new emerging consciousness: respectful of tradition, sympathetic to intellectual curiosity. Zhang seeks to regain the sanctity of the individual.

ASU Art Museum will be celebrating the opening of this exhibition at the Spring Opening Reception, 7-9 p.m., Feb. 19. The reception is free and open to everyone. Refreshments for the reception are sponsored by Four Peaks Brewing Co.

Organized by the ASU Art Museum’s Ceramics Research Center, Wanxin Zhang: A Ten Year Survey is made possible by the ceramic leaders at ASU and the Joseph Dung Ceramic Initiative, in cooperation with the Udinotti Gallery, Scottsdale, Ariz., Mindy Solomon Gallery, St. Petersburg, Fla., and the Morean Arts Center, St. Petersburg, Fla.

ASU Art Museum is free and open to the public. Museum hours are Tuesdays, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. during the academic semesters, and Wednesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. The museum is closed Sunday and Monday, but offers additional educator hours by appointment on Mondays and before 11 a.m., Tuesday-Thursday.