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Exhibition focuses on artist's California days

By LIA ZHU in San Francisco | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-05-16 02:34
Zhang Xinrui (left), the eldest daughter of legendary artist Zhang Daqian, and her daughter Xiao Daiwen, attend the preview event of a commemorative exhibition on the artist on Friday in Silicon Valley. [Photo by Lia Zhu/China Daily]

An exhibition on Zhang Daqian, one of the most famous Chinese artists, is open in Silicon Valley with a focus on his life in California.

Zhang Daqian (1899-1983), also known as Chang Dai-chien, is the best-known Chinese painter of the 20th century. During his nine years of living in California (1967-1976), he developed stylistic innovations that revolutionized traditional Chinese painting.

The exhibit, 120 Moments of Chang Dai-chien in California, displays 120 works of art and archives commemorating the 120th anniversary of his birth. It runs from Saturday through June 2 at the Silicon Valley Asia Art Center in Santa Clara, California.

The artworks on display include more than 10 paintings and works of calligraphy by Zhang and other artists in memory of him.

One of the artist's calligraphy works is a Chinese menu for a restaurant in Palo Alto, California. Zhang was a passionate foodie who would meticulously handwrite menus for his private chef. A collection of his handwritten menus sold for about $1.2 million in New York in 2018.

The archives include photos of Zhang with his friends and disciples, and brochures of his exhibitions held in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Zhang first visited the US in 1952 and moved there in 1967. He bought a home on the exclusive Seventeen Mile Drive in 1971, calling it Huanbi An, or "hut in the sticks".

"His sojourn in California is a very important chapter of his life. Wherever he went, he saw a new world and sought innovations and changes from the tradition," said Jay Xu, director of the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.

Zhang was a world traveler. He traveled in his youth throughout China, and in his later years around the world. Apart from California, he also had homes in Argentina, Brazil, and finally in Taiwan.

Innovations associated with his period in California are most evident in the artist's landscape paintings, such as the distinctive pines of the Monterey peninsula.

Renowned as a modern impressionist and expressionist painter, Zhang is referred to as the "Picasso of China". Zhang surpassed Picasso as the world's best-selling artist by generating $506.7 million from auctions in 2011 alone.

Zhang Xinrui, 92, the eldest daughter of Zhang, contributed a piece of calligraphy to the exhibition. Now living in her father's home in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Zhang Xinhui said she still remembered that she and her younger brother, each holding a bowl of water, watched their father paint lotus flowers with ink in their home in Chengdu in the 1940s.

"The paper was so big that he had to paint on the ground," she said. The large-scale lotus painting is currently on display at a commemorative exhibition Silhouette of a Great Master at the Palace Museum in Taipei.

Xu said the Asian Art Museum also has a large-scale ink lotus. The museum will organize a retrospective on the artist later this year.

Zhang's first California solo exhibition was in 1967 at Stanford University. In 1972, the Asian Art Museum organized an exhibition for Zhang.

Living close to the Bay Area with a strong Chinese art and immigrant community, Zhang was surrounded by Chinese friends and intellectuals who were already aware of his work.

He also was a controversial figure because of his forgeries thanks to his early years of copying old paintings, said Shu Jianhua, curator of the exhibition.

"But he challenges the past and never repeats himself. He made groundbreaking contributions in the combination of the old and new. From this perspective, he is incomparable in 20th century Chinese art history," he said.

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