Image: (left) Portrait of Heidi Zuckerman (right) Portrait of Barbara Pollack

In Conversation: Heidi Zuckerman and Barbara Pollack on Zeng Fanzhi

  • Fri 17 February 2023
  • 1 – 2 pm

On the occasion of the first Los Angeles solo exhibition by the renowned Chinese artist, Zeng Fanzhi, please join us on Friday 17 February for a special conversation between Orange County Museum of Art director Heidi Zuckerman and award-winning journalist and curator Barbara Pollack. Both speakers have written essays for a fully-illustrated publication produced by Hauser & Publishers on the occasion of the exhibition, which will be released in fall 2023.

This event is free, however, reservations are recommended. Click here to register.

About Zeng Fanzhi Zeng Fanzhi was born in Wuhan, China in 1964 and graduated from the Hubei Institute of Fine Arts in Wuhan in 1991. One of the most celebrated artists working today, Zeng is lauded across the globe for his technical mastery and ability to conjure emotion from his subject matter.

During his early education in Wuhan Zeng immersed himself in Western art, philosophy, and the Social Realist techniques of the 1985 New Wave movement in China. These interests informed his earliest series of paintings, Meat Series and Hospital Triptychs. Both bodies of work are characterized by an approach that is at once objective and tender. Zeng renders human figures as merely slabs of pink and red flesh indeterminable from the animal carcasses that surround them, while also capturing the agonizing pain of his subjects with an empathetic brush. These early works between 1989 and 1994 set the stage for an intensely personal and expressive painting practice that documents a prolific period of social and economic development in Chinese history.

Working in the wake of rapid modernization and urbanization in China, Zeng turned his attention to figures from the industries around him, and began to paint businessmen and politicians, always wearing masks so as to disguise human pain and agony behind a ‘socially acceptable’ face. Inspired by artists as diverse as Francis Bacon, Willem De Kooning, Max Beckmann, these works, known as the Mask and Behind the Mask series, straddle realism and imagination to reveal a meticulous attention to technical detail, merged with a free and expressionistic style of painting.

Following a period of critical and commercial success, Zeng made the conscious decision to move away from formal figuration and rules guarding composition and representational painting and entered into a new exploration of abstraction and expressive portraiture. In 1996 he embarked on a new series, removing the coverings from his subjects’ faces to reveal their raw emotion and the reality of their suffering.

Over the past two decades, Zeng has reacquainted himself with traditional Chinese ink painting, and art particularly from the Northern Wei to Song and Yuan Dynasties from the fourth to fifteenth centuries. Informed by these new interests, Zeng has moved further into abstraction, creating highly gestural landscapes that share the same dynamic energy of his portraiture. These canvases are traversed by lines, blending with and obscuring the legible objects in the background. Zeng has said of this work: ‘They are not real landscapes. They are rather about an experience of miao wu [marvelous revelation], a restless journey of discovery.’ Over the past 10 years, Zeng has developed this series to investigate the complex tension between nature, wildlife, and humanity.

In parallel to his experimentations with ‘landscape’ painting, Zeng continued to forge ahead with a more experimental language in his portraiture studies: the We series comprises distorted faces painted at extremely close range, employing large, circular brushstrokes that create a frenzied and urgent presence. These paintings are produced by a method that requires intense physical involvement: Zeng uses his entire body, stretching across the breadth of these large-scale canvases to apply color with multiple paintbrushes simultaneously.

About Heidi Zukerman Heidi Zuckerman is CEO and Director of the Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA) and a globally recognized leader in contemporary art. She is host of the podcast About Art and author of the Conversation with Artists book series.

Appointed in January 2021, Zuckerman led the museum in opening its new home in October 2022 designed by Morphosis Architects under the direction of Pritzker Prize winner Thom Mayne. The state-of-the-art 53,000 square foot building is double the size of the museum’s former location in Newport Beach. In a salute to OCMA's thirteen female founders, the opening collection exhibition will be 13 Women, organized by Zuckerman. This is the second building project she has completed.

Zuckerman is the former 14-year CEO and Director of the Aspen Art Museum. After reimagining the museum as a world-class institution, she founded its annual ArtCrush gala, raised more than $130 million and built a new, highly acclaimed museum with Shigeru Ban, the 2014 Pritzker Prize winner for architecture. At the Aspen Art Museum, Heidi Zuckerman curated the exhibitions Wade Guyton Peter Fischli David Weiss (2017), Yves Klein David Hammons/David Hammons Yves Klein (2014), Lorna Simpson: Works on Paper (2013), Mark Grotjahn (2012) and Fred Tomaselli (2009).

From 1999 to 2005 she was the Phyllis Wattis MATRIX Curator at the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, where she curated more than forty solo exhibitions of international contemporary artists such as Peter Doig, Shirin Neshat, Teresita Fernández, Julie Mehretu, Doug Aitken, Cai Guo-Qiang, Tacita Dean, Wolfgang Laib, Ernesto Neto, Simryn Gill, Sanford Biggers, Ricky Swallow and Tobias Rehberger. Formerly she was the Assistant Curator of 20th-century Art at The Jewish Museum, New York, appointed in 1993, and curated Light x Eight: The Hanukkah Project, Contemporary Artist Project: Kristin Oppenheim and Louis I. Kahn Drawings: Synagogue Projects which traveled to The Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

She has curated more than 200 museum exhibitions during her career and is the author of numerous books including a widely loved children’s book The Rainbow Hour with artist Amy Adler. She was recently appointed to be an Arts Commissioner for the City of Costa Mesa.

Zuckerman earned a BA in European History from the University of Pennsylvania, an MA in Art History from Hunter College at CUNY and holds a Harvard Business School Executive Education certification.

About Barbara Pollack As a curator, educator and writer, Pollack has been involved in global contemporary art since the late 1980s. She is the co-founder of Art at a Time Like This, a nonprofit organization providing a platform for free expression to artists addressing pressing issues of the 21st century.

A leading expert on Chinese contemporary art, Pollack curated Mirror Image: A Transformation of Chinese Identity at Asia Society in 2022. Her scholarly essay, Lu Yang: Artist vs. Avatar, was published in Screen Bodies, an academic journal. She also curated DOKU—Digital Alaya by artist Lu Yang at Jane Lombard Gallery in New York in May 2021 and organized My Generation: Young Chinese Artists, the first show of Chinese younger artists in the United States, which appeared at the Orange County Museum of Art in 2015.

Pollack has published two books on her research in China: Brand New Art from China: A Generation on the Rise (Bloomsbury, 2018) and The Wild, Wild East: An American Art Critic’s Adventures in China (Timezone 8, 2010). Pollack has contributed major essays on many artists including as Liu Ye, Li Songsong, Lin Tianmiao, Wang Gongxin, Zhao Zhao, Sun Xun, and Tu Hongtao. Several of her essays were included in the China Art Book, published by Dumont Literatur in 2007. Based on her extensive interest in this field, she has been awarded to Asia Cultural Council fellowships and a Andy Warhol Arts Writer grant.