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The artist Zhang Hongtu is a philosopher with a brush. The mountain-water paintings in this series each follow a single, seemingly simple formula: execute a famous Chinese composition in a well-known Impressionist or Post-Impressionist brush manner, Ni Zan as if painted by Monet, Dong Qichang done by Cézanne, Guo Xi and Shitao by van Gogh. But the works and their result are anything but simple, and audience responses to Zhang s series of works vary wildly. Some may enjoy the tranquil beauty of his mountain-water paintings, or the sheer dynamism of others; some may appreciate the particular pairings of past masters; others, however, may be disturbed by their iconoclastic appropriation of past styles and their miscegenation of different traditions; still others may contemplate the profundity (tinged with sly wit) of the numerous aesthetic and cultural questions raised by the artist s simple  act of mixing traditions, blending (and thus radically reconfiguring) our fixed cultural stereotypes. Like any savvy postmodernist, Zhang is keenly attuned to his audience, intent not on pleasing them (heaven forbid!) but on challenging expectations, raising questions of values, and producing differential responses  after all, an audience that disagrees with the artist or among itself is an engaged, thinking audience, unlike those in the Chinese world which Zhang Hongtu grew up in, where an artist or performer was expected to provide unquestionable truths to a receptive, docile and unified audience.

Zhang Hongtu, who left China behind (or at least tried to), was never entirely there  in the first place. Born in 1943 in northwestern Gansu province, his ethnically Hui family was officially designated as minority.  Deeply religious, in the first year of the new Communist (and officially atheist) regime, 1950, Zhang s father moved the family to Beijing where he became a chief editor for the government magazine Chinese Muslim and a committee member of the Chinese Islamic Association. This was at once an honor and a stigma: in the political backlash of 1957, Zhang s father was labeled a rightist.  During the Cultural Revolution this bad family background  meant that Hongtu was excluded from the Red Guards and judged not worthy to portray Chairman Mao Zedong.

Even while excluded, Zhang Hongtu was at first an enthusiast of Mao s great upheaval, but he finally became revolted by its carnage. It was from observing a relatively minor incident, in which a student sitting on a newspaper got badly beaten up when it was noticed the paper bore a photo of Mao, that Zhang learned the true power of religious imagery. Zhang attended the high school attached to the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing but couldn t enter the Academy itself. He graduated from the Central Academy of Arts and Crafts in Beijing but was never able to teach.

In 1982, deeply skeptical about Chinese politics and culture, and well before the mass exodus of young Chinese artists at the end of the decade, he migrated to the United States. On a student visa, he studied for four years at the Art Students League, but in New York Zhang found himself even more of an outsider  than he had been in China. Today, having lived half his adult life in New York, Zhang finds that Chinese treat him as a New Yorker while New Yorkers still regard him as Chinese. Is it any wonder that his art should locate and blur the boundary between East and West? A lifetime of social peripheralization has helped Zhang develop a philosophical perspective on the question of boundaries. Like philosophers of the White Horse  school of Confucius  time (so called for questioning whether a white horse,  modified perceptually by its whiteness, can still be conceived of simply as horse,  generic and undifferentiated), Zhang Hongtu is essentially a linguist. When he mixes Dong Qichang and Cézanne, do we have Dong Qichang  and Cézanne  any longer, or are we left with something entirely new and different? The doubly-familiar becomes unfamiliar. Moreover, Zhang is aware that because his Chinese and Western models are such potent icons, so basic to our understanding of the art of painting, this blending, this questioning, is no longer arcane and obscure but publicly disruptive and disturbing, and perhaps most unsettling to those whose familiarity with art is most dependent on a few sanctified models. Above all, Zhang understands that this issue represents a central dilemma of modern Chinese culture: defining the appropriate limits of authority.

Revering and perpetuating historical tradition, the premodern artists closely modeled their work on that of selected past masters, limiting their creative contribution to a blend of old and new. Even a highly original artist like Dong Qichang (see figures 10, 11, 12) might have as much Dong Yuan  in his art (the artist he most revered) as he had Dong Qichang,  while in paintings by the less original Wang Jian (who often produced small, album-sized reproductions of famous early masters; figure 32) one might see more of both of these Dongs than of Wang himself (of Dong followed by Dong followed by Wang). So Zhang Hongtu s blending of past traditions is nothing new, but rather a modern commentary on an enduring topic. For many Chinese today, the past is perceived less as an object of reverence than as an historical weight, a potential constraint on creativity and free expression  and this seems especially so for those artists troubled by China s continuing tradition of authoritarian politics.

Zhang muses that in his student days, everyone made plaster portraits of classroom models, and after returning from lunch to work you couldn t even tell whose work was whose. Looking past politics for a deeper accounting of China s perennial authoritarianism, the pedagogy of rote learning, of patternized behavior and replication of enshrined models, has been seen as the culprit. For Zhang Hongtu, to whom China s great artistic tradition is a mixed blessing, his art of appropriation and radical miscegenationexposes in those who resist it an attachment to authority, to icons, to authorized practice and orthodox lineage.

As critic-historian-painter, Dong Qichang was the most influential creator of orthodox lineages, defining which past artists should be relied on as models and which should not. His favorite models (the four masters of the Yuan dynasty ) all derived from a single source  the great tenth-century painter Dong Yuan. He wrote of these five artists: Huang Gongwang studied Dong Yuan; Wu Zhen studied Dong Yuan; Ni Zan studied Dong Yuan; Wang Meng studied Dong Yuan. They all studied the same Dong Yuan, and yet they were all different from each other.  In Dong Qichang s mind, the fact that these artists could all creatively follow the same master meant that they needed no other master, that other, later artists need only follow these clear lines of derivation. That Ni Zan (figures 26, 31) might actually have blended what he gleaned from Dong Yuan with other, quite different models like Li Cheng, that Wang Meng mixed Dong Yuan with Guo Xi (figure 7), that Huang Gongwang also absorbed the influence of Guo Xi, and that Wu Zhen intended to include Jing Hao in his mix of styles hardly squared with Dong Qichang s theories of pedagogy, which became orthodox for the whole nation from the 17th century on. But Dong Qichang was wrong. And in drawing on actual practice rather than orthodox theory, on what might have seemed to Dong Qichang as a wholly impermissible mixing of radically different genetic strands of art, Zhang Hongtu is able to call upon strong historical precedent for his on-going project.  Zhang s odd mixtures are not quite as preposterous as one might first imagine, not even when one considers their East-West fusion. Bear in mind also various Western artists like Giuseppe Castiglione (or Lang Shining), the 18th-century Jesuit at the imperial court in Beijing, who produced many a Chinese  painting in Western media, with European  shadows and depth. Still earlier precedents, like the 17th-century Chinese blenders  Wu Bin, Zhang Hong, and others, might also be cited. Zhang Hongtu s work, among other things, reminds us that the working out of East-West relations in art is a very old story. As Zhang inscribes one of the paintings in this mountain-water series (figure 30), Scholars consider Wang Hui s life work to have been based on the copying of ancient masters, in such a way that he learned to masterthe-techniques of the many great artists since the Song and Yuan dynasties. Wang Hui -himself said, It would be a great accomplishment to have combined the lines of the Yuan, the composition of the Song, and the magnificence of the Tang.  Is it not all the more marvelous to add to that the color of the French Impressionists?

The radical juxtaposition of East and West embodied by Zhang Hongtu s art parallels the conflation of modernity  and Westernization  in 19th and 20th-century Chinese political practice, where Sun Yat-sen s republicanism, Mao Zedong s Marxist-Leninism, and Deng Xiaoping s rush to capitalize ( socialism with a Chinese face,  indeed!) all derive their sanction from Western sources. The present government s repeated crushing of democratic impulses while urging economic entrepreneurship has earned the special ridiculeof many contemporary Chinese artists, whose chastisement of China s new commercialism has sometimes shared with Zhang this formal blend of East and West Examples of this are Huang Yongping s pulpy mess of two textbooks in an installation entitled A History of Chinese

Painting  and A Concise History of Modern Painting  Washed in a Washing Machine for Two Minutes  exposing what happens when native and foreign are all too carelessly thrown together  and Xu Bing s mating of two pigs, one covered with handwritten Chinese characters and the other inscribed with random English words.

Zhang Hongtu s own works have been mixing Chinese and Western cultural references for well over a decade now, beginning with his painting of a Mao cap  on the Quaker Oats logo in 1987 (revealing how strikingly Chairman Mao and Mr. Quaker resemble each other); this work, repeated many times since, has been called the first example of political pop  among contemporary Chinese artists.1 Zhang s most controversial work was a conscious perversion of da Vinci s Last Supper, in which Mao Zedong (having risen to such total dominance in his culture) plays the role of all thirteen participants, rather like a Peter Sellers movie, with Mao starring both as the divine messenger of the new testament and as the Judas who betrays him.2 Last Supper was related to a series of Zhang s works known as Material Mao, aroused by the disastrous Tian an Men demonstrations of 19893 and intent on exploring boundaries. One of these was his Ping-pong Mao, a playing table (remember how ping-pong diplomacy  first helped launch the renewal of U.S.-China relations in the early 1970s) with a large silhouette of the Chairman cut out on each player s side, leaving a narrow boundary on which to play. Zhang s idea was that boundaries are not one-dimensional but have their own depth: placing oneself too far away from the Chairman and his ideology lands one in trouble, off of the table; but Mao is dangerous, too, and landing too close to him can be equally disastrous, as his closest associates repeatedly discovered. Negotiating boundaries, living along peripheries, requires great care4. A subsequent series of Zhang s Mao portraits became the rage in the mid-1990s in the perpetually-peripheralized and soon-to-be- transferred  Hong Kong, popularized in the form of Mao Dresses designed by Vivienne Tam and sported publicly by the most glamorous of Hong Kong s fashion models.5 All of these works, with cultural boundaries and boundary-busting as their theme, helped prepare the way for Zhang s carefully-considered on-going  mountain-water paintings.

Ironically, by dipping back into the past in order to examine and question its premises, by focusing on tradition in search of an escape from its constraints, Zhang Hongtu s project infuses the art of past with his own vitality and gives it an on-going presence. Proving Dong Qichang wrong in certain ways, Zhang acknowledges him to be quite right in others. While snobbishly selective about the artistic company he kept, Dong fully realized that the past lived on in, was blended and changed by, every new work of art. Zhang would not want it otherwise. His argument is not with the past but with excess  not with the past masters but with the over-simplified historical treatment of them, with their sanctification, with the investiture of them with inflexible authority over the present. Equally evident in Zhang s work is his studious respect for earlier art and artists. He was, after all, in his student years a great fan of Claude Monet when Monet was still an officially forbidden decadent-bourgeois artist. In America, Zhang s study of Monet, Cézanne, and van Gogh absorbed many hours at the Metropolitan Museum. His connection between Dong Qichang and Cézanne may not be new in concept (Sherman Lee published a painting by Dong s close follower Wang Yuanqi side by side with a Cézanne landscape almost forty years ago6 ), but Zhang s actual blending of these two structuralist masters confirms the rightness of the concept. Zhang s matching of the ephemeral styles of Wang Shen, Mi Youren, and Ni Zan (figures 6, 17, 26, 31) with that of Monet seems equally right.  His rendering of the mystic Shitao by means of van Gogh s starry night is inspired, as is his related rendition of Shen Zhou s famous Night Vigil (figures 5, 29). Zhang s matching of the visionary Guo Xi Early Spring and some of the more dramatic works of Shen Zhou with Vincent s sun-drenched daytime palette not only obliges us to see these artists as they weren t but also as they (and as history) might have been (figures 7, 8, ). His Zhao Mengfu, Autumn Colors on the Qiao and Hua Mountains, as if seen by Monet, seems perhaps as true to Zhao s own vision of this tangled marshland as the original work itself (figure 22). (All this comes to us just at a moment when popular culture turns its fancy to alternative histories: for example, in cinema, The Truman Show, Run Lola Run, The Matrix, Existenz.) Zhang s multiple explorations of Fan Kuan (Cézanne and van Gogh) and of Zhao Mengfu (Monet morning, noon, and evening), by extending the process, seem almost to close a historical circle by reminding us of the multiple renderings of such works actually done down through the ages (Fan Kuan by Fan Kuan, Fan Kuan by Wang Shimin, Fan Kuan by Wang Hui; Zhao Mengfu by Zhao Mengfu, Zhao Mengfu by Wang Fu, and so forth) (figures 1, 2, 19, 22, ). Zhang Hongtu s wry inscriptions constitute a remarkable sequence of what if s   what if these artists, in a modern ambiance, let down their guard, abandoned cliché and told us what was really on their mind.

A genuine post-historian by instinct, yet part of the long Chinese tradition of art based on art, Zhang Hongtu wants nothing less than to liberate modern man from the bonds of the past, to tell us that nothing is inevitable and nothing ever was. He is bound to the past but not bound down by it. If we re unused to seeing the once-pale Ni Zan in shimmering light, perhaps that is not his limitation but ours. Look again and blink, as Zhang Hongtu tells us, There is my ambition  if I have an ambition: I d like people thinking about color, light, thinking about the other [Western] culture any time when they look at a traditional Chinese painting.  Even on the periphery  or perhaps, especially there one is as free as the imagination.7

"Jerome Silbergeld is P.Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Professor of Chinese Art History and Director of the Tang Center for East Asian Art at Princeton University. He is the author of six books, including Chinese Painting Style; Chinese Painting Colors; Mind Landscapes: The Paintings of C.C. Wang; Contradictions: Artistic Life, The Socialist State, and the Chinese Painter.

Li Huasheng; China Into Film: Frames of Reference in Contemporary Chinese Cinema; and Hitchcock With a Chinese Face: Cinematic Doubles, Oedipal Triangles, and China's Moral Voice. He has also published more than thirty articles and entries and co-authored the Encyclopaedia Britannica entry on Chinese art."

1. Wu Hung, Transience: Chinese Experimental Art at the End of the Twentieth Century (Chicago: David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art, Chicago University, 1999), 45. Zhang may not have been aware of how vigorously anti-Communist the Quaker Oats Company had been throughout the cold war era.
2. Ironically, this painting was itself betrayed. Slated for inclusion in an exhibition on the first anniversary of the June 4, 1989, Tian an Men massacre, organized in Washington, D.C., by the Congressional Human Rights Foundation, Zhang s satirical protest against the deification of Maoist authority was pulled on the grounds that it might be offensive to Christians.
3. One particular stimulus for Zhang s Material Mao series was the defacing of Mao Zedong s portrait overlooking Tian an Men Square, by three demonstrators from Mao's own hometown, who were turned in by students and sentenced to long prison terms.
4. The Material Mao series also required that the audience fill in the hollow silhouettes, seeing Mao according to their own definition of him  an inspiration Zhang claims he got from a bagel.
5. For Tam s dresses, see the jacket cover of Geremie Barmé, Shades of Mao: The Posthumous Cult of the Great Leader (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1996); for the paintings themselves, see the cover of Howard Goldblatt, editor, Chairman Mao Would Not Be Amused: Fiction From Today s China (New York: Grove Press, 1995).
6. Sherman Lee, Chinese Landscape Painting (Cleveland: Cleveland Museum of Art, 1962), 100-1.
7. The growing body of writings on Zhang Hongtu s work includes, chronologically, Jonathan Hay, Zhang Hongtu/Hongtu Zhang: An Interview,  in John Hay, Boundaries in China (London: Reaktion Books, 1992); Jonathan Goodman, Zhang Hongtu at the Bronx Museum of the Arts,  Asia-Pacific Sculpture News (Winter 1996), 58; Wu Hung, Afterword, `Hong Kong 1997   T-Shirt Designs by Zhang Hongtu,  Public Culture, 9 (1997), 417-425; Cao Zhangqing, The Black Hole of Mao Zedong: The Art of Zhang Hongtu,  in Michael Dutton, Street Life China (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998); Wu Hung, Nothing Beyond the Gate,  in Wu Hung, Transience: Chinese Experimental Art at the End of the Twentieth Century (Chicago: David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art, Chicago University, 1999), 43-7; Alexa Olesen, Breaking Free, Flying High: Zhang Hongtu s Journey from Maoism to Modern Art, www.virtualchina.com (December 1999).
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