Installation photograph, featuring Zhan Wang's Beyond 12 Nautical Miles Floating Rock Drifts on the Open Sea (2000) and Gold Mountain (2007), in the exhibition The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China

Installation photograph, featuring Zhan Wang's Beyond 12 Nautical Miles Floating Rock Drifts on the Open Sea (2000) and Gold Mountain (2007), in the exhibition The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, June 2, 2019–January 5, 2020, © Zhan Wang, photo © Museum Associates/LACMA

The Allure of Matter: Spotlight on Zhan Wang

September 3, 2019
Susanna Ferrell, Curatorial Assistant, Chinese and Korean Art

The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China brings together works by Chinese contemporary artists from the past four decades in which conscious material choice has become a symbol of the artists’ expression. Their media range from the commonplace to the unconventional, the natural to the synthetic, the elemental to the composite: from plastic, water, and wood, to hair, tobacco, and Coca-Cola. Throughout the run of the exhibition, we will be highlighting individual artists and artworks from the show.

The scholar’s rock—an icon in Chinese art history, an object for meditation, and an essential facet of a Chinese garden—became an inspiration for Zhan Wang in the mid-1990s. At this time, he began to recreate the forms of natural scholar’s rocks out of thin sheets of stainless steel—a practice that he continues to develop to this day. To create his sculptures, Zhan pounds thin sheets of stainless steel over the surface of natural stones, then welds these sheets together, sands down the seams, and finally polishes the finished, hollow stone until it has a mirror-like gleam. Zhan created Gold Mountain, currently on view in The Allure of Matter, for an exhibition at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, in conversation with the history of San Francisco and the Chinese immigrant experience. The natural rock here is less scholar’s rock and more boulder, taken from the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, local to San Francisco, and thus promising the possibility of gold within. Zhan’s stainless steel rock contrasts the natural boulder in manifold ways: heavy and light, old and new, natural and synthetic; the conceptual, surface-level value of the stainless steel rock contrasting the finite, physical value promised within the natural boulder.

The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China is on view in BCAM through January 5, 2020.