Zhang Huan was born in 1965 in Henan, China, and trained at the Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, where he studied painting. After a period in New York, since 2005 the artist has lived and worked in Shanghai. At the beginning of his career, in the 1990s, his principal means of expression was his own body, often naked, which he exposed to extreme conditions. During a famous performance, 12M2 (1994), Zhang Huan lay in a dirty public bath doused in honey and oil, and was then covered with insects. His American period was characterised by increasingly elaborate performances, structured in such a way as to involve a large number of participants. On his return to China, Zhang Huan’s practice evolved, and he began focusing entirely on installation, scupture and painting. In the latter two, in particular, he introduced a very unusual material that is very important for him: ash from incense gathered in temples. For the artist this has a strong symbolic value, evoking both collective memories and the cycle of life – and suggesting the possibility of spiritual rebirth.
Recent exhibitions dedicated to his work include those held at the Pace Gallery, New York (2015), Carriageworks, Sydney (2015) and Storm King Art Center, New York (2014). His work was shown in the exhibition ‘The World Belongs to You’ (2011-12) at Palazzo Grassi.