The art world success of Zhang Huan makes a compelling story, the postmodern Horatio Alger myth at the heart of contemporary Chinese art. Today, at the age of forty-three, Zhang is a multimillionaire. In New York, he is represented by PaceWildenstein, which held a survey of his latest work in Chelsea last spring. At his factory studio in Shanghai, a hundred assistants living in dormitories churn out labor-intensive carvings of propaganda scenes, photorealistic “ash paintings,” and fifty-foot-tall giants constructed of calfskins stitched with wire. After a decade and a half of privations, Zhang has become a giant himself, one of the artistic titans of the new Chinese economy. But his tale should come with a warning label. Zhang has struck it rich through cunning and compromise and contamination. He embodies all that it means to be a contemporary artist “made in China.”
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