The Gao Brothers , Zhen (Chinese, b.1956) and Qiang (Chinese, b.1962), have been collaborating with each other in various projects since 1985. Based in Beijing, they produce Performance Art, photography, sculpture, paintings, and written works. The image of Mao reoccurs as an icon in many of their pieces, evolving from a childhood trauma involving their father. He was thrown into jail in 1968, during the Cultural Revolution. He died during his incarceration, when the Gao Brothers were only 12 and 6 years old.
Introduced to Chinese traditional art when they were very young, Zhen graduated from Shandong Academy of Fine Arts, and Qiang graduated from Qufu Normal University. The brothers exhibited their first piece, Midnight Mass, at the National Art Museum of China. It was an inflatable installation that represented the sexual organ of a hermaphrodite. In 1989, the Gao Brothers painted a memorial to honor the victims of the Tiananmen Square protests: an open hand with a hole in the center to represent a bloody wound, which now stands in front of Tiananmen Square.
These Contemporary artists have organized countless performances since 2000 that center around the idea of hugging. The Hug features models embracing for approximately 15 minutes, sometimes fully clothed, other times completely naked. Their other works include The Current State of Chinese Avant-Garde Art, How Far Can You Walk in One Day in Beijing, and The Report of Art Environment. Much of their work is politically charged, influenced by China's history of Communism and the suspicion surrounding their father's death.
Gao Brothers: Grandeur and Catharsis was the artists’ first museum exhibition in the United States, and is currently installed at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. The brothers' photographic works have garnered them international fame, most notably for their series Sense of Space, depicting contorted, naked bodies squeezing into boxes that are too small. The boxes are labeled Anxiety, Prayer, Pain, etc., representing tales of the Chinese "social straitjacket." Currently, the brothers can be found in the Dashanzi Art District working at the 798 Art Zone.