Chen Zhen (b. China, 1955 – d. Paris, 2000) was one of the most important artists of the 1990s. He set the stage for conceptual art from China and despite his early death had a lasting and significant impact on art history.
Chen Zhen was conceptual artist born in China in 1955, who lived and worked in Paris until his untimely death in 2000. 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, The Albertina Museum (Vienna), The Israel Museum (Jerusalem), Kröller-Müller Museum (Otterlo), Centre Pompidou (Paris), The Museum of Modern Art (New York), Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York), Tate (London), Tel Aviv Museum of Art (Tel Aviv), and M+ (Hong Kong).
Chen Zhen died on 13 December 2000. His open-minded approach and the quality of his work won him widespread international recognition. His works have been shown around the world, and he has had solo retrospective exhibitions in a number of important museums and institutions such as: Chen Zhen, Short-circuits, HANGAR BICOCCA - MILANO. Curated by Vicente Todolí (2020); Chen Zhen: Without going to New York and Paris, life could be internationalized, curated by Hou Hanru, Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai (2015); Chen Zhen, Même lit, rêves différents, Faurschou Foundation, Beijing (2012); Chen Zhen, Shanghai Art Museum, Shanghai (2006); Chen Zhen. Silence sonore, curated by Jérôme Sans, Palais de Tokyo, Site de création contemporaine, Paris (2003); Chen Zhen, Elogio della Magia Nera - In Praise of Black Magic - Eloge de la Magie Noire, GAM - Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Turin (2000); Chen Zhen. Inner Body Landscapes, curated by Gilbert Vicario, ICA - Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (2002); Chen Zhen, curated by Lisa G. Corrin, Serpentine Gallery, London (2001); Jue Chang / Fifty Strokes to Each, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Tel Aviv (1998); Fu Dao / Fu Dao, Upside-down Buddha - Arrival at Good Fortune, CCA - Center for Contemporary Art, Kitakyushu (1997); Field of Waste, The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York (1994); Light of Confession, Centraal Museum, Utrecht (1993); Chen Zhen au Magasin, Le Magasin - CNAC, Grenoble (1992).
His work has also participated in international biennales, including: the Lyon Biennale, Johannesburg Biennale and Gwangju Biennale in 1997; the Montréal Biennale in 1998; and the Venice Biennale in 1999, 2007, and 2009.
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