Chen Zhen (Chinese, 1955–2000) is one of the earliest installation artists in China. Born in Shanghai, Chen grew up during the tumultuous years of the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976). After immigrating to Paris in 1986 to attend the Ecole Nationale Suprieure des Beaux-Arts and the Institut des Hautes Etudes en Arts Plastiques, he abandoned his early work in painting in favor of mixed media installation. His pioneering works using the concept he called open sculpture—which appeared in various group and solo exhibitions—quickly gained international acclaim. These early pieces in the 1990s often present utopias of multicultural dialogue, poetic landscapes full of unusual material alliances, hybrids, and new connections between Eastern traditions and the Western artistic vocabulary. In Chen's 1995 work, Round Table, chairs from five continents were brought together to form a new structure that evoked the round dining tables of Chinese banquet halls and restaurants. But the familiar arrangement was rendered strange by the ways in which the tables and chairs have been embedded into one another and stripped of their original function. Diagnosed with a rare medical condition autoimmune hemolytic anemia at the age of 25, Chen spent most of his artistic career fighting this deadly illness, which had also become an important inspiration for his works. In the last two years of his life, Chen fused his exile, his illness and traditional Chinese medicine, surveying and synergizing the relationships that define the social body. Works such as Lumière Innocente (2000), an incandescent cocoon of hospital tubing woven around the frame of an antique crib, dated the year of his death, are both elegant and heart-wrenching. Chen lived and worked in Shanghai and Paris. He died from autoimmune hemolytic anemia in Paris in 2000.


Glass Stress, group show, Istituto veneto di scienze, lettere ed arti, Palazzo Cavalli Franchetti, Venice


China Art Book. Uta Grosenick / Caspar Schübbe (Ed.), 680 pages, approx. 850 images, trilingual: Engl./Ger./Chin., Dumont Buchverlag, Cologne 2007.