Zhang Huan talks with Melissa Chiu, Asia Society Museum Director, about the phases of his constantly evolving artistic career in Beijing, New York, and Shanghai. In conjunction with the exhibition "Zhang Huan: Altered States," on display at Asia Society and Museum, September 6 through January 20, 2008- Asia Society
Dr. Melissa Chiu
Dr. Melissa Chiu is Museum Director and Senior Vice President, Global Arts and Cultural Programs, Asia Society in New York responsible for overseeing the programming for museums in New York, Houston and Hong Kong. She was previously Founding Director of the Asia-Australia Arts Centre in Sydney (1996-2001).
As a leading authority on Asian contemporary art, she has organized nearly 30 exhibitions of artists from across Asia including a retrospective by Zhang Huan, a survey of Yoshitomo Nara, and an exhibition of art from China’s Cultural Revolution.
She earned a M.A. in Arts Administration (1994) and a PhD (2005) in Art History and is the author of numerous articles and books including Breakout: Chinese Art Outside China (2007), Chinese Contemporary Art: 7 Things You Should Know (2008), Asian Art Now (Monacelli Press, 2010, co-authored with Benjamin Genocchio) and an anthology Contemporary Art in Asia: A Critical Reader (MIT Press, 2011, co-edited with Benjamin Genocchio). She has served on numerous panels including Pew, Institute of Museum and Library Services and New York State Council on the Arts and currently serves on the board American Association of Museums, and Museums Association of New York.
Zhang Huan was born in Anyang, Henan, China. He is primarily a performance artist but he also occasionally makes photographs and sculpture. He began his work as part of a small artistsâ€™ collective known as the "Beijing East Village" located in a rural outpost of the city. The group of friends from art school pioneered this particular brand of performance in China and Zhang was often reprimanded by officials for the perceived inappropriateness of his actions.
Zhang's performances always involve his body in one way or another, usually naked, occasionally involving masochistic actions; he cites the body as a primary method of communication, describing it as the only means by which people experience the world and vice versa. By using quasi-religious ritual, he seeks to discover the point at which the spiritual can manifest via the corporeal. He uses simple repetitive gestures, usually regarded as meaningless work-for-work's-sake chores.