Since time immemorial, Chinese scholars have drawn inspiration from the natural world – particularly the rocks and stones that have been shaped and reshaped by time and the elements, and that have come to resemble miniature mountains. These rocks and stones lie at the heart of artist Zhan Wang's artistic output.
"In 1995, I noticed a strange phenomenon on the streets of Beijing," the artist recalls. "In front of so many modern buildings, there were installations like the literati rockery that I used to climb in the parks when I was a child. It surprised me that we had imported Western architecture, but did not have contemporary artwork to show with this. It seemed that the rocks and stones were important to the Chinese people, but I didn't know why."
"I began to look into this matter, including the conceptual and the philosophical origins of the stones, based in Taoism and the pursuit of nature, usually concepts seen in paintings. But actually, the stones can present the very essence of such a philosophy. Since 1995, I have concentrated on stones."
Today, the Beijing-based artist produces shiny stainless-steel rock sculptures that are a modern-day tribute to the scholar stones worshiped by generations of Chinese. He wraps a traditional Chinese scholar's rock with sheets of stainless steel, which he then removes and welds together into a seamless sculpture. His rock sculptures, which – as at Donum – can be monumental in scale, can be found in major museum collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Zhan Wang sprang to fame in 1993 with a work titled "In a Twinkling" (1993) – a set of ultra-realistic sculptures of human figures that were displayed in unexpected outdoor locations. His art can be seen as a reflection on the clash between old and new, between the natural and the man-made in contemporary China. "In China,” he says, “modernization is associated with the West: when China modernizes, it westernizes." For his 2008 exhibition "On Gold Mountain" at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, he used rocks selected from the foothills of the Sierra Nevada to create his sculptures, "alluding to the nineteenth-century Chinese immigrant experience of mining gold during the California gold rush.” He also created as cityscape of San Francisco using all steel items, such as rocks, mirrored surfaces, silverware, and stainless steel pots and pans.