Zhang Huan (b. 1965, China) is one of the most vital, influential and provocative contemporary artists working today. The layers of ideas the artist explored in his early performance art, conceived of as existential explorations and social commentaries, have carried through to the more traditional studio practice he embraced upon moving to Shanghai in 2005, after living and working for eight years in New York City.
Zhang Huan's works are both highly personal and politicised, dealing with complex issues of identity, spiritualism, vulnerability, and transgression. His practice focuses on no one particular media but rather incorporates a wide variety of tactics – from performance to photography, installation, sculpture, and painting -- utilising each method for its physical and symbolic associations. This unique approach to making reinforces the interconnectivity of the concepts and recurrent motifs running throughout of Zhang's work, and mirrors an underlying sentiment of shared human experience and bond.
Zang Huan is one of China's best-known performance and conceptual artists. He is also known for his shocking and absurd photographs and images. He studied painting and taught art history in Henan but switched to performance art, seeing it as a way to interact with the world. His body became both his medium and his language. In the 1990s, Zhang attracted notoriety and the government's censorship for his unsettling works, which involved subjecting his naked body to pain or torturous circumstances. In "12 Square Meters" (1994), Zhang smeared fish oil and honey over himself and sat in his dirty, neighborhood public outhouse for an hour, letting flies swarm and eat off of him. Critics interpreted it as a spotlight on the living conditions in Beijing's East Village, an artists community, and elsewhere in China, and as a testament to the mind's ability to rise above horrible situations. After Zhang moved to New York in 1998, he walked down the street with slabs of raw meat tied to his body creating the image of a giant walking piece of meat. His works of self-expression have also earned much acclaim. "Peace," a 2001 installation of a horizontally-hanging, gold-leaf-covered cast of Zhang's body that strikes a huge bronze bell, was sold for $408,000 at Sotheby's auction in 2006. In September 2007, the Asia Society in New York held a retrospective of his works. He now operates one of the world's largest art studios, employing over 100 workers creating an array of sculpture works and installations. He was recently signed by the highly regarded Pace Wildenstein Gallery in New York. He now lives and works in Shanghai and New York.