“I keep using children images in my creations, because I always adhere to refuse growing up in my deep mind. My little heart, which grew up in the farming civilization, cannot bear the changes that the modernization brought to Chinese societies, politics, economies, cultures and nature. In the face of smog pollutions, mortgages, European refugees, terrorisms, COVID-19 and the other problems, I am sure that now is not only me have a wish to live in the childhood and never wake up. In addition to the external social care and internal question meanings, no matter in which of my life stages, play the role of a never grow up child is my era choice of the culture.” --- Tang Zhigang
New York, Mar 26th - W.Ming is thrilled to present Tang Zhigang’s online exhibition “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting” on its official website and Artsy from March 23rd to May 15th, 2020. This exhibition displays artist’s 29 oil paintings during 2009 to 2018, and seven oil paintings before 2009. From leaping in different stages, viewers can see the artist keeps his keen, innovative and constantly breakthrough manner of his arts. For this show, W.Ming seeks to exhibit a relative clear context for viewers, and to analyze the ideological art of “children”.
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting is a novel by Czech writer Milan Kundera, published in France in 1979. This book is composed of seven independent narratives which united by some common themes - the nature of forgetting. Forgetting occurs in histories, politics and life in general. In the book, the writer used the genre of magic realism to tell different stories. “Tang Zhigang: The Book of Laughter and Forgetting” exhibition is curated by Chen Leru. The curator quoted Milan Kundera’s book title for this exhibition, and describes Tang Zhigang’s works as follows:
On the first impression of Tang Zhigang’s works, you will usually feel interesting and fun. Especially when you see the series of soldiers who are having meetings, you will even laugh out loudly. In a traditional impression, soldiers are well-disciplined, stereotypes and serious, but the artist turns this impression into a cartoon image. The works have an obvious sense of playful, not only childlike but also audacious in the extreme. The context of the Chinese contemporary art is different from the past, and many artists create their works with the attitude of pop art or cynical realism. However, using the soldier’s theme to express the specific and vivid scene which still completely overturned our imagination of the soldier’s life. It let everyone worry about Tang Zhigang’s situation in the political environment, which the soldier's image cannot be disfigured. When Tang Zhigang converted the series of “Soldiers in Meeting” into the series of “Children in Meeting”, many people consider this action is intentional, is a satire and criticism of the reality, or is a kind of provocation after being suppressed. But, in fact, these are just our interpretation of Tang Zhigang's work. We lack a deeper understanding of the works’ inner meanings.
Tang Zhigang, who has military experience, explained his main works before 2010 in a specific and sincere way:
"When people asked me why I painted ‘Children in Meetings’, I usually answered that, in the previous ‘Soldiers in Meeting’, some people took it personally and even caused troubles. Therefore, I simply changed them to children characters. Chose children's images because I had been doing young people’s art education for a long time. In the army, I was a propaganda cadre and worked in a political section. Except set up various venues, wrote slogans and took photos, there was another special task which was to teach art classes for the children in the army compounds. In order to prevent the children to vandalize the camps, the head of the army assigned me to discipline these children by arts and paintings. I had been doing this job for eight or nine years. Until today, I still could not get rid of it. In that time, my studio was the classroom. In front of the ‘Army’s Meeting’ painting, children were raising their hands up to answer my questions. In this scene, the painting and the children were too easily to connect each other. It happened by accident, but the final decision of using children as the special symbols was made after careful consideration. It was not to entirely avoid accusations. "
Tang Zhigang explained why he used the children images as the unusual symbols, and even questioned the associations of linking the art works with social problems and political issues. However, he also admitted that “no matter how much I compressed the pictures and reduce the superfluous elements of the reality, the original plot characteristics in my descent were unconsciously exposed and noticed by the others”. This important self-narration paragraph of the “Children in Meetings” was mentioned in the past of Tang Zhigang’s reviews. Normally, viewers’ interpretations of works often deviate from artists’ explanations. Our purpose of this exhibition is not to deliberately sort out Tang Zhigang’s personal creative history or background. By understanding of the art perspectives, we want to drive viewers to the pure art itself. A person's growth track cannot be ignored by those who do creative jobs. For many artists, the tracks even determine their artistic directions.
Memory is an important part of human beings. It is unlike blood and genes, but it is also irreplaceable and indispensable. In some ways, our lives are continued by memories. The " Soldiers in Meeting" and "Children in Meeting" series became the past of Tang Zhigang's creations. He recorded his earlier memories by drawing these paintings. This was a way for him to recall his past; this was a way to confide his memories. The process of drawing the memories was to dispatch all the past uncertain emotions and real feelings, then combed them again and again ritually. There have remembrances, satires, resistances, angers, sentimentalities, and even self-deprecations. In the end, Tang Zhigang used his artistic language to make you laugh. Lu Peng, an art historian and critic, commented on Tang Zhigang ’s works: "Art rarely has the opportunities to solve real problems and to raise rational questions like philosophy. However, people’s understandings of reality need to be emotional, and have some kinds of hints that cannot be delivered in words. Perhaps, just one "laughter" can make people to reflect on various problems”. In this orderly or disorderly combing process, new artistic inspirations and directions will always reappear. For the present, every step in the past is accumulation for the future.
In the recent decade, the features of Tang Zhigang's works has been changed significantly. Why Tang Zhigang made such a big change? He said, "It’s because of my health. During 2009 to 2015, I stayed in hospitals several times and had a serious surgery. Due to the treatment process, I started to pay attention on my body health. The past works were more focused on the external world. The difference directions of the works were closely related to my personal life experience. In the past, I paid more attention on the social public level, such as the societies, politics and life experiences. Now, I have more concerns about the meanings and values of life, artistic languages and the ontology. In the first stage, I put more emphasis on the narrations. In the latter stage, I put more focus on the expressions. These two have the essence differences. For artists, they will have several phases in their life. The styles’ changing for each phase is related to the special experiences that they have in the corresponding time. These changes are easily reflected on the paintings”.
In Tang Zhigang’s early creative time, the content and story were the main features of his works. In the later works, he de-emphasized the storylines, although the content’s carrier still using the traditional narration method. Tang Zhigang paid more attention on the usage, refinement and expression of the artistic language. The painting’s modeling was free and bold. It freed from the figurative realism in the earlier works, and the color tended to be subjective, emphasizing the inner expression and emotional rendering with rich gray tones. Recent period works were more about the explorations and experiences of self-life.
“The Book of Laughter and Forgetting” exhibition displays Tang Zhigang’s 36 works, mainly were painted from 2009 to 2018. Meanwhile, we also selected several representative works before 2009, in order to better compare the connection between Tang Zhigang’s recent decade creations and the past’s; and how his artistic direction and ideas developed and changed. By comparing the past and exploring the truth through the artist's spiritual journey, we hope to make present day much clearer. Let viewers observe how Tang Zhigang's painting history changed and transformed during this period. This is also the mission of our exhibition.
The artistic sightseeing, which float on the surface, is like appreciate the cherry blossoms in every spring. How can we have the ultimate pleasure of lasting forms and spiritual harmony? Tang Zhigang's friends said that Tang Zhigang has always been accepting the traction in both directions: "the past and the present."
Milan Kundera said: "We must never allow the future to collapse under the burden of memory." This is also the reflection of re-finding the artistic truth and the spiritual truth from memory. Tang Zhigang uses laughter to refuse oblivion.
About the Artist
Tang Zhigang (Chinese, b. 1959) was born in Kunming, Yunnan province. He grew up in a Chinese military family and joined the PLA army directly after graduating from the secondary school. Tang Zhigang learnt oil painting at the PLA Art Academy in Beijing in the late of 1980s. Currently, he lives and works in Kunming and Beijing. Tang Zhigang’s early works were more focus on his life in the Chinese army. From the late 1990s to 2012, he created the iconic “Children in Meeting”, “Chinese Fairy Tale”, and “Never Grow Up” series. Tang Zhigang’s works are closely related to his unique experience. Through the art of humorous language, by children’s naughty figures and serious political conference scenes, to create a great contrast and funny sense of images, he vaguely depicted the real situations and highlighted his own critical attitude and the exploration of human nature. His works have been exhibited in the following art institutions: Shenzheng Art Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai, Liu Haisu Art Museum, National Art Museum of China, Yunnan Provincial Museum, Bulgarian National Telecommunications Museum Art Center, Czech National Gallery, Yuan Xiaocen Arts Center, Guangdong Art Museum, Tang Contemporary Art, Red Bridge Gallery, doArt Gallery and more. Recently, he has held solo and group exhibitions at CGK Contemporary Gallery (2019), Wenda Gallery (2018), IWE Art Museum (2018), Manege Central Exhibition Hall (2017), Yunnan Art Museum (2016), Hanart TZ Gallery (2015), Yuan Xiaocen Art Museum (2015), Yunnan Provincial Museum (2014), Four-Face Space Art Centre (2014), Guangxi Art Museum (2013), National Art Museum of Romania (2013), Guangxi Art Museum (2013), Red Bridge Gallery (2013).
W.MING is a private art advisory and consulting company founded in 2010 by Xiaoming Zhang. W.MING provides private sales, art advisor and art education consulting services for private and institutional clients globally. The works we’ve promoted have been exhibited around the globe at many museums such as the Metropolitan Museum and the Guggenheim Museum. W.MING works with artists to represent their exhibitions and sales, promoting the development of the art industry globally. The company specializes in international classic and modern and contemporary art. W.MING currently has offices in Beijing, Shanghai and New York. www.wmingart.com
Peng, Lü. Tang Zhigang: Rewriting Memory through Paintings. Journal of Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts. Issue 3, 2017 (Lü Peng: Art historian, curator, and critic. Now he is the President of L-Art University.)
Write by Leru Chen
Curator, writer, artist. Graduated from Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts, she once worked as an editor, journalist and deputy editor of China’s National Environmental Media and now is an art curator of W. Ming Art.
+1 917 535 6286 (USA), +86 186 1883 3806 (China)
Wechat: 186 8883 3806