Fables & Theatreality

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Taiji Lightning Helmet, 2009 Oil On Canvas 150 X 160 Cm © courtesy of Asian Art Piers and the Artist
Fables & Theatreality
Curated by: Louise L Chen

NEW YORK, NY 10001
May 3rd, 2012 - June 29th, 2012
Opening: May 3rd, 2012 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM

Chinese contemporary art surrealism, pop-surrealism painting figurative


ASIAN ART PIERS gallery is pleased to present “Fables & Theatreality” a duo-exhibition of selected works by Zheng Hongxiang and Mu Lei. Both born in 1980’s China, the two artists came of age in a period characterized by rapid economic development, an influx of western consumerism, a surging netizen culture and an evolving society yet with unsettled identity torn between the socialist root and a capitalist outlook.

 Battle (diptych), oil on canvas, 200 x 180cm each,2011

Zheng Hongxiang

“There is a dichotomy between man and society based on the assumption that man is naturally anti-social and the function of society is to restrain man's evil nature. It is the function of society to check and restrain the anti-social instincts...the more suppression the more elaborate the culture and the greater the incidence of neurosis, and the less suppression the less neurosis but also the less civilization." -- Sigmund Freud

As an artist, Zheng takes an intellectual and imaginative model for understanding and interpreting the contemporary society in all its aspects. His works offer an in-depth dissection of the existential paradox and explore the dichotomy and dynamics between the individual and society. “As a Chinese artist born in the 1980’s, when interacting with the contemporary society, a mixed sense of enclosure and confinement arises in me. Yet the enclosure does not feel entirely safe while the confinement seems self-contradictory....It is rooted in our social constructs, the hierarchy, more specifically, the Superstructure.” Zheng said in his statement.

A renewed theatrical Baroquesque quality can be found in Zheng’s works, which present a myriad of epic sceneries and captivating spectacles recalling the dream state in the Freudian analysis. Developing this theme since 2007, Zheng conceives and repeatedly constructs this cryptic realm in a series of paintings with an array of symbolic imageries and motifs, among which, constantly recurring are the red stage, a gray endless sky and the protagonist, a disrobed muscular faceless human figure with a red box covering his head, seeking, exploring, or confronting the outside world yet with their vision blocked. The overall color palette is based on scarlet red and various greys, exuding a mixed sense of both tension and passion.

Zheng’s precociousness is not only seen in his artistic vision but also well manifested in his technical virtuosity, especially the mastery of large-scale painting. One of the highlights of the exhibition, Battle, consisting of two panels of oil painting, measures 3.6 meters in width and 2.0 meters in height. Upon the red stage re-emerge four faceless human figures, two on each side of the stage, one being mounted on, crawling forward while wearing a box with a scribbled horse head imagery, the other apparently in command, wearing a box with a mischievous grinning face, poised with a long spear against the other side. Even in such intense confrontation and opposition, each group shares with the other an eerily identical hierarchy, assumes an identical poise, and even wears identical red boxes imprinted with excerpts of the Declaration of Independence.

In light of the Freudian view, man wants to conquer, is willing to battle and will saddle others for his own gain. The box imprinted with democratic ideals perhaps merely provides the means in which to “battle” without moral obligation; the composition is not a criticism of any political systems, but a carefully conceptualized commentary, reflecting on the dichotomy between man and society.

Born in 1983, Zheng Hongxiang grew up in Gaizhou, Liaoning Province, and graduated from the Oil Painting Department of the Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts in 2006. Prior to this debut exhibition in the U.S., Zheng has exhibited at prestigious museums in China and other reputable venues in Asia and Europe. Zheng currently lives and works in Beijing.

Mu Lei, Bad Girl (diptych), oil on canvas, 200 x 100 cm each,2008

Mu Lei


Born in China in 1984, the iconic year when the country officially opened its doors to the west, Mu Lei represents a generation growing up under the ever-increased influence of western consumerism yet without the emotional trauma suffered by prior generations. His artistic approach stands out as a departure from the cultural attitude of his predecessors in prior art movements.

As one of the youngest artists to exhibit at the prestigious Venice Biennale in 2011, Mu captures the pulse of “his” new China with the visual symbols that resonate with the new generations across the world who relate to a similar cultural experience shared through the global media and the internet. His “anime pop” style embodies the essence of contemporary Chinese youth culture meets consumerist allure that has been transforming the country for nearly three decades.

A hint of surrealism is also visible in Mu’s paintings as he draws inspiration from the likes of René Magritte and Salvador Dalí. In Ambush, a biomorphic dragonfly-blackhawk crossbreed alights on the lush leaves of a gigantic lotus bud, behind which lurks a mischievous-looking grinning girl, a femme fatale who seems ready to pounce and capture. Taiji Lightning Helmet is composed of a face portrait of a young female test pilot adorned in the half-black/half-white Chinese Taiji colors, venturing through the lightning storm towards the viewer, no reaction to the stealth bombers collapsing into the purview. Her gaze, intense and decisive, entranced somewhere between wondrous awe and determinable focus, seems to compel the audience to duck away from her unstoppable motion.

In the diptych Bad Girl, the female protagonist (or in the context of the series, the “antagonist”) assumes the role of a stylishly polished yet blasé young woman. Between her delicate full lush lips dangles a slim cigarette, of which three smoke-puffs of Chinese lucky clouds slowly twirl upward. Annoyed or disturbed about the coexistence of the mirror self, through the lenses of their overbearing “Jackie-O” glam sunglasses, they stare down on one another, as if the other is the alter ego. Their glares seem to materialize into an array of stealth bombers that crash into the border that divides between their dual worlds.  

Such visually dazzling and conceptually stunning compositions recall what the surrealist poet Pierre Reverdy once said: "a juxtaposition of two more or less distant realities. The more the relationship between the juxtaposed realities is distant, the stronger the image will be...” Mu Lei’s paintings render poetic reality and convey a compelling emotional power, characterizing the socio-psychological aesthetics of a new millennium Chinese netizen.

Mu Lei was born in Jiang Su, China in 1984, and earned his Bachelor of Arts from Sichuan Institute of Fine Art. His work has been exhibited in museum shows and prestigious venues around the world including the 54th Venice Biennale, “Future Pass,” Abbazio di San Gregorio and Palazzo Mangili-Valmarana, Venice, Italy; Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei, Taiwan; Today Art Museum, Beijing, China.