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Buddha of the Month

Western Buddhists, of course, aren't the only ones working with 21st-century Buddhism; Asian Buddhists and artists are too, albeit in an very different context. Buddhist imagery and practice have a much larger and more historically dominant place in Asia than in the West.

Chinese artist Zhang Huan has worked with Buddhist artifacts and relics he collected in Tibet, left there in disrepair after the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1961-1970s). This is a different practice from what Zhang is perhaps better known for; performance pieces in meat suits and being covered in flies in an outhouse.*

As the website Cool Hunting notes:

"One of the earliest and most influential icons of contemporary Chinese art, Zhang Huan is best known for his performance piece in which he covered himself with honey and sat naked in front of a fetid public restroom outside of Beijing until he was completely covered in flies. Another popular work is his muscle suit made of meat—or muscle depending on how you look at it."

On Saturday, Storm King Art Center will be dedicating his monumental sculpture Three Legged Buddha (2007), standing about 28 feet high and weighing in at more than 12 tons.

The work shows the bottom half of a sprawling, three-legged colussus, one foot resting on an eight-foot-high human head that appears to be either emerging from or sinking into the earth. 

What does such a work mean to an artist who was born in China in 1965, in the middle of the Cultural Revolution? To someone born in a Chinese culture that had been infused with Buddhism that was quite suddenly removed from the national psyche, what do Buddhist relics mean? Is working with relics like playing with Jesus? Is is like Gibby Haynes's* "Jesus, Mary, Football" (2007) (which I own, btw)?

More image grist for the postmodern mill?

What do Buddhist relics and artifacts mean to us? I don't know, but I'm eager to see Zhang's work -- and post a picture here!


* If you are not familiar with Chinese art today, among the very best books about contemporary Chinese art  is Barbara Pollack's new The Wild, Wild East, which covers Zhang Huan excellently.)

** (Gibby Haynes, Butthole Surfers founder, among other accomplishments)
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zhang huan

i've been a fan of his work for quite some time, particularly the january 2008 retrospective at the asia society, which you can read about here: http://twi-ny.com/twiny.01.09.08.html#anchor3.

you can also find his oversized "head from buddha foot" on view in the sculpture garden at the 590 atrium, madison & 56th sts.

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