“The surface is everything”
Zhan Wang was born in 1962 in Beijing, China. In 1996 he graduated from the sculpture department of the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) and he currently lives and works in Beijing where he teaches sculpture at CAFA. Zhan Wang is considered as one of the most important contemporary artists in China whose artistic creations touch upon sculpture, installation, actions, photography and video. Zhan Wang’s practice is firmly rooted in the culture by which he has been surrounded with over the course of his life and traditional Chinese understanding, whilst at the same time attempting to interpret the features of traditional culture from an individual perspective and by means of a distinctive creativity deduce anew and poetically transpose the effects of history, traditions, the spirit, the natural world onto the human situation and perceptions via his works by enfolding subject matter fromurbanization, artificial simulation and industrialization, alongside the materials used in the works themselves which lead to the creation of an entirely different connotation.
From the beginning of his career in art in the 1990s when he was a studying sculpture at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Zhan Wang’s creations already began to gradually free themselves from the traditional socialist realism of Chinese 20th century sculpture. In “….. — …” (1994-2002) series, Mao jackets were contorted into fantastically transformed empty shells, a road of exploration following desires, transformation, and deconstruction. In these works, one can see how Zhan Wang was not constricted by the existing conceptual confines of art, installation and sculpture. In 1995, Zhan Wang began work on his most well-known series: “Artificial Rocks” (1995-present). “Artificial Rocks” is Zhan Wang’s attempt to simulate the most representative natural objects, for which he chose the ‘Taihu stone’ commonly seen in classical Chinese gardens, and used stainless steel boards to copy their exterior form. The quality of the stainless steel material of the “Artificial Rocks” in its ability to reflect the exterior world has always attracted Zhan Wang all the way until 2004 when he set about work on his “Mirrored Garden” series (2004-2005) of photographic works. Zhan Wang’s interest in materials such as stainless steel and other reflective surfaces reached its most sublime level in the series “Urban Landscape” (2002-2005), for which he selected the representatively global cities such as Beijing, London, Chicago, and San Francisco and tried to elicit their form through stainless steel cooking utensils and tableware, day-to-day familiar objects transformed into a gleaming shimmering metropolis. By incorporating the quotidian and the spectacular, and the variegated relationships between the individual and the city, the work also projected the artist’s own ingenious reflections on the fast-paced modernization of contemporary societies.
In addition to the aforementioned works, Zhan Wang sends his stainless steel stones upon different journeys in order to augment their original conceptual meaning: to the high seas in Floating Rock Drifts on the Open Sea（2000), on a journey into outer space in New plan to fill the sky（2002), into divine realms for Mount Everest（2004) or in the sketches drawn down to mark the creative processes for each artificial stone in New Suyuan Stone Catalog（2007).
In his later solo shows, Zhan Wang would begin to expound upon the embodiment of nature’s vitality through its destructive power. Suyuan Stone Generator—1 Hour Equals 100 Million Years（2010，Today Art Museum) was a large-scale machine created in collaboration with engineers, in which scientists and geographers copied the five elements of nature and within the space of an hour created a ‘scholar rock’. My Personal Universe（2011）took the explosion of a massive boulder and by means of high-speed photograph images recorded the moment of explosion, and recreated the more than 7000 individual pieces of rubble in stainless steel, suspending them from the ceiling of the exhibition space (Beijing’s Ullens Center for Contemporary Art). Just as at the original moment of explosion, this project was inspired as a retracing of the beginning of the universe. For Zhan Wang, it was also a search for the original source of form and concept, whereas his solo exhibition held the following year at Long March Space “Form of the Formless “reflected upon the purity of form of these similar conceptions.
Zhan Wang, who extensively employs a panoply of artistic media is still unable to fully abandon his identity as a sculptor. One can detect from the four Silhouette sculptures from his 2014 solo show “Morph” (2004-2014), in how Zhan Wang using the hands and labor of a traditional sculptor, transforms two-dimensional material into a three-dimensional existence. “Morph “, while following in the same vein as his earlier works “Mao Suit” 、“Artificial Rock” and “Flowers in the mirror”, also simultaneously attempts to crack through the conventions usually associated with the expressive content of sculpture, remedying the gap between ‘image’ and ‘form’.
Zhan Wang’s artworks continue to be collected and favored by many important Chinese and overseas museums and public institutions, such as the National Museum of China, the British Museum, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art,; Boston Museum of Fine Arts, , the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, the Fondation Louis Vuitton, the National Museum of Scotland, the Shiodome Museum in Tokyo, the Mori Art Museum, and the Busan Museum of Modern Art etc.