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Theater of Life. The Exhibition of Graphic Works by Zhang Minjie – laureate of MTG Cracow 2015

The exhibition is a special event, since it shows works made by Zhang Minjie, winner of the Leon Wyczółkowski Award presented by the Regional Museum in Bydgoszcz during the International Print Triennial of Cracow in 2015. The Bydgoszcz Museum has been cooperating with the MTG Association in Cracow since 2009, when the program associating the Triennial was expanded by a series of graphic exhibitions titled “Multiplicity in unity”. The exhibition commemorates in a symbolical way the 50th anniversary of International Print Shows in Cracow celebrated in 2016.

The Award Jury decided that the lithograph from the series Stage made by the Chinese artist Zhang Minjie, sent among graphic artworks from all over the world, corresponds best with the works of the great master Leon Wyczółkowski. This outstanding Polish artist became interested in graphic art in the beginning of the 20th century. After many experiments with metal techniques, fluor etching and algraphy, he tried to work in lithography, to which he remained faithful until the end of his life. He mastered this technique, experimenting with materials, work methods and topics. There is a reason why one of the critics called him “The Rembrandt of Lithography”. This magnificent technique and precision in work bring the artists together.

The works presented at the exhibition come from the mature period of the artist’s work – from his graduation in Beijing on the Faculty of Graphic Art at the China Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1990 to this day, when he actively participates in the cultural and scientific life of China. Zhang Minjie serves as a dean of the Mural Department of the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, director of the Hebei Province Print Association, member of the board of the China Print Association, and member of the Chinese National Art Association.

The exhibition consists of two spaces – the room of temporary exhibitions in the Modern Art Gallery and the Exploseum. The first one of them hosts the main show of graphic works made by the artist, primarily in the woodcut technique, but also lithography, screen printing and chalcography. Zhang remains faithful to traditional techniques, continuing in particular the tradition of Chinese woodcut. With exceptional virtuosity he presents events from the history and life of the nation of China using various formats, multiplying them and assembling individual pieces into a larger, complete work of art. His works are distinguished by a composition built from many figures shown in motion - dance, acrobatics and run, usually from a raised perspective. Events usually take place in vast spaces, bringing to mind the symbol with strong ties to the history of China – Beijing’s Square of Heavenly Peace [Tiananmen]. These prominent state squares hosted numerous public manifestations serving as a tool to communicate with the authorities. These protests constituted unique “political shows” taking place with the use of special “props”. Presentations of masquerades, parades and grand dances are also influenced by Zhang’s thespian career, which he pursued in his early years starting from 1975, being part of a theater group that was active in Fengnan. The “dancing” figures in the graphic works of Zhang seem to celebrate some feast, although not always with positive overtone. Their partner is frequently weaponry or skeletons (series Untitled, 2009-2010) serving as a unique caution against the fragility of human life, the cruelty of wars, and the passing of time. It reminds the European toposes of memento mori and danse macabre, which basic message was eschatological reprimand. The image of anxious movement, trembling and shivering was presented by the artist from his experiences from youth. In 1976, he survived the earthquake of Tangshan, where he was trapped under the debris of a house. The drama of that event was enhanced by the fact that the artist lost his sister during the earthquake.

Personal experiences in Zhang’s artworks combine and intertwine with the political situation of China. The artist shows frequently in his works parts of the Great Wall, which after “relaxing” of communism in China was redefined by many Chinese artists. Starting from the early 1990s, Zhang lived and worked for more than a decade in Qinhuangdao, the city which features the eastern end of the Great Wall. He was hugely impressed with a trip alongside this picturesque site, where the wall enters the Yellow Sea. It inspired the artist to use in his works the motif of the Great Wall as a place filled with people during dances, acrobatics and dancing on stilts (series Dancing on and beneath the Great Wall series, 1992; series Piece of  Wall, 1994). With unusual courage, Zhang also used the artistic icons of the West, commenting on the current social and political problems. The artist featured his reflections in, among others, the series of lithographs Stage (2013-2016), where he uses images of famous statues such as Laocoön and His Sons, The Nike of Samothrace and The Pieta by Michelangelo. The latter one was featured in the work no. 1 from the series awarded during the International Print Triennial of Cracow in 2015.   

The main exhibition is accompanied by an annex situated in the Exploseum. The artist, inspired by this place during his visit to Bydgoszcz in 2015, decided to present here a series of sixty woodcuts Sound of Convolution (2010-2016). The austere works, built with expressive line, show the war reality during the Sino-Japanese War in 1937-1945. Presentations of multiplied soldiers, weapons, bloody fights and storms will symbolically refer to the events taking place in the same time in Europe (World War II) and the tragic fate of laborers working in the DAG Fabrik armaments factory in Bydgoszcz for the Third Reich.

Honorata Gołuńska

HONORY PATRONAGE International Print Triennial Society in Krakow (Stowarzyszenie Międzynarodowe Triennale Grafiki w Krakowie, SMTG)

Master Sponsor SMTG in Krakow



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