Demolition, Forbidden City
- Zhang Dali, Chinese, 1963-
- Born: Harbin, China
- Work Locations: Beijing, China
Zhang Dali, Demolition, Forbidden City, 1998. Chromogenic color print . Denver Art Museum Collection: Gift from Vicki and Kent Logan to the Collection of the Denver Art Museum, 2015.659. © Zhang Dali
Following a period of exile in Italy from 1989-1993, Chinese artist Zhang Dali returned to Beijing and was struck by the speed at which the city was being rebuilt. With new social policies that prioritized economic growth and encouraged a nascent consumer culture, in combination with the dire need to rehouse a swelling migrant population from rural areas of China moving to its cities in search of employment, little concern was given to the historical character of Beijing in its transformation. As Zhang states, just trying to record the extent of this activity could be bewildering: “I noticed how many physical changes the city had undergone. In the beginning, I was trying to follow the changes. I would take a map and try to retrace them around the city center. After some time I could not follow them anymore; they were too many and too sudden.”1
While in Italy, Zhang had begun to experiment with graffiti. Initially unfamiliar with the form, he was intrigued by the interplay that could occur among a number of artists on a painted wall. This would fuel his highly charged art-making upon his return to Beijing, where he is considered a pioneer in introducing the practice of graffiti to China.
Spurred by the ever increasing number of buildings marked for demolition, Zhang retitled his series Demolition and began a more aggressive intervention in the urban environment. After painting, he hired workers from the construction projects to hollow out the contours of his graffiti profiles, foreshadowing the larger devastation around him. In recognition of the temporal nature of the work—Zhang’s half-razed walls and gouged heads were doomed to be destroyed when rebuilding on a site occurred—he underscored the brutality of the demolition by emulating its method.
"Demolition, Forbidden City" is one of the key works in Zhang’s series. Here, he contrasts the condemned hutong structures in the foreground with one of the turrets of the ancient Forbidden City seen through the broken-out shape of his head. In doing so, he calls attention to both the token preservation of traditional culture for nationalist and tourist ends and the erasure of a way of life inherent in large-scale redevelopment.
1 Francesca Dal Lago, “Space and Public: Site Specificity in Beijing,” Art Journal 59, no. 1 (2000): 83.
- "Transforming Traditions: Contemporary Chinese Art from the Logan Collection"- Victoria H. Myhren Gallery, University of Denver, Denver CO, March 5 - April 26, 2009