Zeng Fanzhi, Lóng Táitóu II, 2019 – 2023 © Zeng Fanzhi

Zeng Fanzhi at the Scuola Grande della Misericordia in Venice

19 January 2024

Organized by LACMA, the exhibition will open concurrently with the 2024 edition of La Biennale di Venezia and will be on view 17 April – 30 September 2024

Zeng Fanzhi will debut new works at the Scuola Grande della Misericordia in Venice in the exhibition ‘Zeng Fanzhi: Near and Far / Now and Then,’ organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). With an installation designed by architect Tadao Ando, the exhibition premieres two recent bodies of work by the renowned artist: new abstract paintings and works on handmade paper rendered in ink, graphite, chalk and gold dust, among other mineral pigments. 

The exhibition is co-curated by Michael Govan, LACMA CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director, and Stephen Little, Florence and Harry Sloan Curator of Chinese Art and Department Head, Chinese, Korean and South and Southeast Asian Art. 

‘Zeng Fanzhi’s work is especially celebrated as a balance of technical mastery and emotion,’ says Michael Govan. ‘‘Zeng Fanzhi: Near and Far / Now and Then’ at the Scuola Grande della Misericordia will shed light on Zeng's ambitious painting practice, and Tadao Ando’s architectural intervention will illuminate the interconnections that Zeng’s new body of work highlights.’ 
‘Zeng Fanzhi’s work engages two different types of materials: one thick and topographical, another thin and translucent,’ says Stephen Little. ‘His work also demands two opposing approaches to viewer engagement—one distant, the other profoundly intimate. Taken together with the Asian and European traditions on which it draws, this exhibition will guide viewers to discoveries prompted by tensions that are deftly deployed by the artist.’ 

Zeng Fanzhi, Arhat IX, 2019 – 2023 © Zeng Fanzhi

Zeng Fanzhi, Nirvana, 2019 – 2023 © Zeng Fanzhi

The exhibition will shed light on Zeng’s ambitious practice of redefining the abstract through exercises in figurative representation and vice versa. The artist’s new oil paintings emerged from his decades of research in color theory, drawing on and challenging impressionist and pointillist practices whereby images materialize only through the careful placement of individual marks of color. Layers of brushwork create figurative elements that are readily recognizable from afar but when viewed up close dissolve into the materiality of oil paint. Tonal variations in one color give way to interwoven schemes of colors, often with more than 30 types of bright pigments in one image. The installation will provide an in-depth glimpse into his command of the medium, his wet-on-wet technique and the emphasis on the sheer materiality of paint that defines his work. In a world now inundated with machine-rendered images, Zeng challenges viewers to recognize the superiority of painting as a time-honored art and craft.

Portrait of Zeng Fanzhi © Zeng Fanzhi. Photo by Li Zhenhua

The works on handmade paper point to a new direction in Zeng’s work, ambitiously combining Christian, Buddhist and Daoist iconography. They recall the apogee of Chinese monochrome ink landscape paintings of the Song (960 – 1279) and Yuan (1260 – 1368) dynasties, while also evoking the ambiguities in the ink landscapes of the late Ming and early Qing dynasty painters Zou Zhilin (d. 1664), Hongren (1610 – 1663) and Dai Benxiao (1621 – 1691). The subject matter moves fluidly from the crucifix to representations of rocks and old trees—symbols in traditional Chinese culture of strength, resilience and longevity. As with Zeng’s paintings, these exquisite drawings deliberately defy categorization in their alignment with the great traditions of Asian and European art.

This exhibition is organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.