Chinese-born, New York–based artist Zhang Hongtu’s recent experiences with Chinese authorities in the run-up to next month’s Olympic Games have left him “very angry,” he told ARTINFO yesterday. Zhang, who shows in New York with Cheryl McGinnis, had a container of his work seized by Chinese customs at the beginning of the month. Inside the case were several large-scale pieces intended for an exhibition at the new Beijing gallery of his Taiwan-based dealers, Lin & Keng, and one smaller painting intended for the “Go Games, Beijing” exhibition to which Zhang had been invited by its German organizers, Brands United.
This, it turned out, was the piece that caused the trouble. Bird’s Nest, in the Style of Cubism (2008) is typical of Zhang’s work in its ironic melding of Western and Chinese imagery and styles. As the title suggests, it represents the Beijing Olympic stadium — popularly called the “Bird’s Nest” — in a convincing mock-Cubist style. This treatment occurred to the artist, he said, “because, as a building without an exterior, it looks deconstructed anyway.” The canvas also features Cubist-like lettering in both English and Chinese. The Chinese phrases refer to the Olympic torch and the slogan “one world, one dream”; the English words are “Tibet” and “Human Right[s].” There are also repeated figure 8s, a number that is said to be lucky in Chinese numerology. (Zhang pointed out that the 2008 games are scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. on August 8 [8/8/08].)