Gang Zhao  Hermeneutics and Deconstruction

07/09/2019 – 19/10/2019

Eröffnung: Freitag, 06. September 2019, 18-21 Uhr
Opening: Friday, 06 September, 6– 9pm

Galerie Nagel Draxler
Elisenstraße 4-6
50667 Köln

Öffnungszeiten / Hours:
Mittwoch – Freitag 11–18 Uhr / Wednesday – Friday 11am–6pm
Samstag 11–16 Uhr / Saturday 11am–4pm

DC Open:
Samstag, 7. Sept.: 11–20 Uhr & Sonntag, 8. Sept.: 12–18 Uhr
Saturday, 7th Sept.: 11 am – 8 pm & Sunday, 8th Sept.: 12 pm - 6 pm

Press Release

August Heat

For Zhao Gang, who was born in the early 60s, and experienced the Cultural Revolution firsthand, destruction and revolution seem to be a natural part of his temperament. He was the youngest artist to participate in the “Stars” exhibition, and among the first group of students to go abroad during the Reform Era. Zhao witnessed rapid changes in culture, economics, and politics not only in the West, but around the world. He grappled with seismic shifts in the contemporary art world. These tumultuous experiences have already become a vital part of him. To this day, he still draws on this steady stream of innate destructive and creative power.

The focal point of Zhao Gang’s new exhibition August is a 10 meter long and 3.5 meter wide painting, which was completed August this year. It features a recumbent, full-figured, sleeping nude female. The painting lacks a detailed background, and only offers a hazy outline. Dark brown brushstrokes surround the rough sketch, highlighting the rosy tones of the female body at the center of the painting, and creating the impression of a person nestled in a sealed grotto. As an artist-cum-archaeologist, Zhao Gang uses his own method to hull this mystery buried inside the ground deep in the mountains. The outline of a grotto-like image cleverly echoes the protruding abdomen and chest of the human figure. They both allude to fertility, and build a nested structure. As always, Zhao Gang from start to finish maintains his brutish, wanton, and unpredictable technique of “destructive painting”. Using this style, he emphasizes the voluptuousness and desire of the body in the painting. The painting draws parallels with Manet’s Olympia, in which his depictions of low-class socialites and prostitutes from the streets of Paris served as a response to Titian’s noble and goddess-like Venus of Urbino. Zhao’s painting is also reminiscent of Courbet’s The Source, with the model’s ample flesh and curves in sharp contrast with Ingres’ classically beautiful figures. Based solely on the figure’s headdress and expression, the painting seems to draw inspiration from the ancient sleeping Buddha. Hence in line with Manet and Courbet, Zhao Gang uses a sensual pictorial language to take a sacred figure, and transform them into or attach them onto a prosaic and nameless reality. The entire tableau appears to be an overpowering mirror image, forcing each viewer to reflect on their own inner desire, faith, and destiny.

Yet, it still fails to both satisfy the artist’s urgent need for catharsis, and wash away the restlessness and moodiness brought by the sweltering summer days. Consequently, Zhao Gang made the bold choice to split this complete image into twenty smaller abstract paintings, using repeated destruction to shatter the viewers’ mirror image. In the realm of art history, this technique perhaps returns painting back to its original trajectory. Rather than a representational female nude, we can only see countless brushstrokes and colors amassed into an abstract form. It not only frees the medium from self-sufficiency, but also the painter himself. These abstract fragments no longer bear the burden of any concept, attitude, or mission, and return to a pure “essence of painting.” But Zhao Gang does not want to return to Greenberg’s question. The Dadaist, punk, and anarchist spirit of the painting itself is what actually liberates the artist. Most of the time, his creative processes are fueled by particular reasons or sources, but he often deftly takes these encumbrances, and crushes them into pieces, spraying them into the air. Akin to his work, he would rather transform himself into individual fragments.

In the past few years, he has gotten used to drinking alone in a hidden corner of Timezone 8; used to hauling his Harley out to wander beyond the city borders; used to completely losing his sense of belonging between China and the West, tradition and contemporaneity, and foreign and local—he often calls himself a “bastard”…he has never believed in the concept of “unity”, and is nearly always filled with a sense of prejudice and dissatisfaction with the entire outside world. Nor does he desire that anything become the center of attention, wielding the power to rule or control others. In regards to any type of power, he maintains a degree of suspicion and rebelliousness. You could say that he is a representational painting split into twenty abstract parts, and scattered in all directions. Because he is reluctant to be the center, he is also unwilling to let himself become anyone’s point of focus. Rather than deeming it a de-centralized painting practice, we might see it instead as a dynamic and nomadic self-exile.

– Lu Mingjun







– 鲁明军




Symbole dienen dem Verstehen. Aber nach welchen Symbolen kann ein Künstler im Jahr 2019 suchen, der sich mit der Zensur der Freiheit des nackten Körpers auseinandersetzt und dabei zwischen asiatischer und westlicher Sicht changiert? Die Frau einmal mehr nackt auf die Leinwand zu bringen, ist erster Schritt der kontinuierlichen Auflehnung gegen ein politisches System, das den 1961 in Beijing, China geborenen Maler Gang Zhao seit jeher begleitet.

Zhao Gang wuchs in China auf, verbrachte dann die 80er und 90er Jahre in New York, bevor er 1997 wieder nach Peking zurückkehrte. Als Künstler mit bilateralem Erbe reflektiert er kanonisierte westliche Positionen aus einer transkulturellen Perspektive. Einerseits spaltet die Hybris der chinesischen Reglementierungen nackte Körperlichkeit in etwas Unnatürliches, Dekadentes, das Konsumierende schlichtweg zu überfordern droht. Auf der anderen Seite herrscht anstelle eines moralischen Zwangs ein ästhetischer. Innerhalb der Reichweite von Facebook gilt „L’Origine du monde“ zwar nicht mehr als unanständig, in der westlichen Kultur sind wir nun jedoch mit der Präsentation des, wie Laura Mulvey es nennt, Perfekten Produkts konfrontiert – der Kastrationsdrohung, dem Fetischobjekt, der Mutter.

Die für die Ausstellung produzierte Arbeit, ein weiblicher Akt im länglichen Großformat, Öl auf Leinwand, wurde von Zhao Gang ursprünglich als Gesamtes gemalt. Im Ausstellungsraum allerdings erscheint das Werk in kleine Stücke zerschnitten auf den Wänden verteilt. Die durchaus ironische Anspielung auf die mediale Zensur in China und das ideologisch verklemmte Pornografie-Verbot der Volksrepublik trägt über nationale Grenzen hinaus. Auch im Titel der Arbeit schwingt ein ironischer Unterton mit. Doch ist das Werk durch die Metapher der Zerstückelung von innen heraus geprägt und strebt so jenseits von Ironie danach, befreiende Konzepte durch den Körper hindurch nach außen zu projizieren. Die Präsentation des Nackten ist immer noch politisch.

Was zumindest zurzeit in China nur bedingt als Cyberrevolution gelingen kann, schafft hier die fragmentierte Leinwand. Thematisch auf Altlasten von kaiserlichen Systemen, ihrer Politik und ihrem Vermächtnis rekurrierend, funktioniert Gang Zhaos Werk als Aufforderung: In dem Blick auf den nackten Körper haben wir die männliche, erotisierende Perspektive auch in Europa nicht vollständig abgelegt. In Hermeneutics and Deconstruction können die Betrachter den eigenen Blick reflektieren und dekonstruieren. Als ständige Zeugen massiver Visualisierung perfekter und ganzheitlicher Körper könnten sie hier lernen, für Details empfänglich zu werden und das Bedeutungsvolle im Segment zu erkennen.
Letztendlich berührt dieser Akt die Selbstwahrnehmung empfindlich, denn hier werden Facetten einer weiten Emotionspalette gespiegelt, die an die Erfahrungen unterdrückter, zensierter, in ihrer Freiheit zerstückelter Frauen und Männer anlehnt.

Museumsausstellungen der letzten Jahre:
"History of Painting“ (noch bis 5. Januar 2020), Pérez Art Museum Miami; "The Road to Serfdom II“ ("Der Weg in die Knechtschaft II“), 2016, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Santiago de Chile; “Paramour’s Garden” („Garten der/des Geliebten“), 2015, Suzhou Museum Suzhou; "The Road to Serfdom“ („Der Weg in die Knechtschaft“), 2015, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Peking.

– Julia Maja Funke



Symbols facilitate understanding. But in 2019, what symbols can an artist, who deals with the censorship of the naked body and whose view is shifting between Eastern and Western perspectives, possibly be looking for? The first step here is to paint the female body naked once again, as an expression of the continuous rebellion against a political system that has been with the artist at all times.

Zhao Gang was born in Beijing in 1961. He grew up in China but spent the 1980s and 1990s in New York, before returning to Beijing in 1997. As an artist with bilateral heritage, he reflects on the Western art canons from a transcultural perspective.
On the one hand the hubris of Chinese regulations divides the naked corporeality into something unnatural and decadent, that simply threatens to overstress the regular consumer. On the other hand, instead of a moral force an aesthetical force comes into action. Within the reach of Facebook „L’Origine du monde“ isn‘t seen as indecent any more, but in Western culture we are now confronted with the Perfect Product – threat of castration, the fetish, the mother, how Laura Mulvey put it.

The work in this exhibition, a large female nude, was originally painted as a whole in oil on canvas. But in the exhibition space it appears cut in small pieces, with the fragments spread over different walls. The slightly ironic allusion to media censorship in China and the uptight ideological ban of pornography works beyond national borders. Also the title of the work has an ironic undertone. But the metaphor of fragmentation respectively dismemberment strongly forms the work from within and beyond all irony. Emancipating concepts are projected through the body to an outside. The presentation of nakedness still is political.

What in a somewhat limited way is succeeding in China today as Cyberrevolution, becomes possible here by means of the fragmented canvas. In recurring to the leftovers of imperial systems, their politics and their legacies, Zhao Gangs new exhibition works as a call: also in Europe, the male eroticized view on the naked body has not been fully set aside. In Hermeneutics and Deconstruction the visitors can reflect and deconstruct their own views. As permanently exposed to the visualization of the perfect and intact body, they can learn to look at details and to discover relevance in each segment.
After all this nude severely touches self-perception. It reflects facets of a wide pallet of emotions, that leans on the experience of oppressed and censored men and women whose freedom is fragmented by power.

Recent museum exhibitions:
"History of Painting“ (until January 5th 2020) Pérez Art Museum Miami; "The Road to Serfdom II“, 2016, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Santiago de Chile; “Paramour’s Garden”, 2015, Suzhou Museum Suzhou; "The Road to Serfdom“, 2015, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing.


– Julia Maja Funke