Among the first Chinese artists to relocate to the West at the time of Deng Xiaoping’s great Opening Up and Reform, Zhang Hongtu arrived in the U.S. in 1982 with training in academic realism and a strong desire to satirize the orthodoxy of the Cultural Revolution—which, due to his Muslim background, affected him doubly—and its fanatical cult of Mao Zedong. His myriad witty parodies employ a wide range of formats and materials, including ink, paint, newspaper, cereal boxes and even soy sauce. Mao appears as the Quaker Oats man, as a “fatherly” leader mustachioed like Stalin, as two game-controlling silhouette holes in a ping-pong table, etc. The self-exiled Zhang also created blue-and-white porcelain Coke bottles, “ancient Chinese bronze” McDonald’s boxes, and Chinese landscapes painted in oil in the styles of Western masters (Monet, Cézanne, van Gogh). The spirit of his first U.S. museum survey is deftly conveyed by a new computer-assisted mural depicting the Great Wall as a series of easily penetrable (if not exactly welcoming) stone arches.
Pictured: Zhang Hongtu: Chairmen Mao, 1989, photocollage and acrylic on paper, each 8½ by 11 inches (12 units). Private collection.