Chen Zhen

Chen Zhen (1955 - 2000) was a Chinese-born conceptual artist who lived and worked in Paris. Born in Shanghai to a prominent family of intellectuals and doctors, Chen Zhen’s formative years were shaped by the vicissitudes and adversities of living in Maoist China, which were furthered when his family was sent to the countryside for ''re-education'' at the height of the Cultural Revolution. Chen Zhen graduated from the rigorous program of the Shanghai School of Fine and Applied Art, studying diverse mediums including Chinese painting, drawing and sculpture in 1973. In 1986 he moved to Paris to study at the École national supérieure des Beaux-Arts and the Institut des Hautes Etudes en Arts Plastiques.

As he continued to live and practice in Paris, Chen eventually abandoned painting in favor of mixed media installation, for which he became renowned. In his mature works created in the 1990s, Chen Zhen explored the "synergy" between different cultural and political contexts, as well as the duality of his own identity. His installations often encompass motifs from traditional Chinese furniture and objects from the domestic sphere, juxtaposed with contemporary electrical devices. Exploring the intricate and often paradoxical relationship between the material and the spiritual, the community and the individual, interior and exterior, Chen Zhen used sound and everyday materials such as candles, beds, chairs, and even chamber pots, linking the physical world to the spiritual, ritualistic one. The result was an aesthetic immersed in the traditional past but aligned with the present.

In 1999, the city of Paris commissioned Chen Zhen’s La Danse de la fontaine émergente, which was the last work he designed. The construction of the monument was continued posthumously by his wife Xu Min in 2008. Chen Zhen’s works are present in the collections of many renown institutions, Musée Léon Dierx (Saint-Denis de la Réunion), National Museum of Ethnology (Leiden), Tel Aviv Museum of Art (Tel Aviv), Museum of Contemporary Art (Zagreb), Tate Collection (London), Kröller-Müller Museum, (Otterlo), Fonds regional d’art contemporain Alsace (Sélestat), and Kirishima Open-Air Museum (Kagoshima).

Since his passing, several international institutions have hosted solo exhibitions of Chen Zhen, including: Chen Zhen: Without Going to New York and Paris, Life Could be Internationalized, Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai, China (2015); Chen Zhen, Musée Guimet, Paris, France (2011); Il corpo come paesaggio, Museo d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea (MART) di Trento e Rovereto, Rovereto, Italy (2008); The Body as Landscape, Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna, Austria (2007). Major survey group shows are: L’Odyssée de l‟Espace 1989/2011, Centre d’art contemporain de Colomiers, France (2011); TRA Edge of Becoming, Palazzo Fortuny, Venezia, Italy (2011); In Praise of Doubt, Punta della Dogana, Venice, Italy (2011); Director's Choice, ARKEN Museum of Modern Art, Ishøj, Denmark (2010); Linguaggi e Sperimentazioni, Giovani artisti in una collezione contemporanea, curated by Giorgio Verzotti, MART di Trento e Rovereto, Rovereto, Italy (2010); Qui a peur des artistes? Une sélection d’œuvres de la François Pinault Foundation, Palais des artes, Dinard, France (2009); OUR FUTURE: The Guy & Myriam Ullens Foundation Collection, curated by Jérôme Sans, Guo Xiaoyan, Kate Fowle, UCCA, Beijing, China (2008).


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