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AGO Presents Acclaimed Chinese Artist Zhang Huan with
Ash Paintings and Memory Doors Exhibition

Cultural projects throughout Toronto create a “Zhang Huan moment”

(TORONTO – April 11, 2012) Incense and memory will pervade the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) this summer with the opening of Zhang Huan: Ash Paintings and Memory Doors, featuring recent works by acclaimed contemporary Chinese artist Zhang Huan. The exhibition, running from May 5 to Aug. 19, 2012, represents one piece of a city-wide celebration of the artist. It is his first solo exhibition in Toronto in over a decade.

On display in the Philip B. Lind Gallery, Zhang Huan: Ash Paintings and Memory Doors uses symbolically charged materials to explore issues around identity, spirituality and history. The exhibition features 12 works from two of Zhang’s most recent series: Ash Paintings, detailed canvases painted with authentic incense ash collected from Buddhist temples; and Memory Doors, carved antique wood doors imprinted with photographic imagery. Both series are inspired by images from old magazines, newspaper clippings, and family photographs that depict scenes of daily life, labour, and military service during the 1940s and 1970s. The works address the disconnection between personal and collective memory – what people remember – and the official historical record of that era in Chinese history.

Simultaneous to the exhibition at the AGO, the Canadian Opera Company and Living Shangri-la, Toronto will showcase other facets of Zhang’s artistry, marking a unique moment in the cultural life of the city.

“Zhang Huan’s ability to distill an incredible amount of power and meaning into beautiful objects has earned him regard as one of the world’s most compelling contemporary artists,” said Matthew Teitelbaum, director and CEO of the AGO. “We urge visitors and members to take advantage of the remarkable Zhang Huan 'moment' taking place in Toronto, and to engage with the full cultural and historical significance of the artworks in this exhibition."

On May 5, 2012, the same day as the public opening of the AGO’s exhibition, Westbank and the Peterson Group, the developers of Living Shangri-La, Toronto will unveil a newly-commissioned large-scale public art installation by Zhang. Inspired by a twisted root, and covered with flights of stainless steel birds, the metal sculpture is entitled Rising. Two years in the making, Zhang constructed Rising at his studio in Shanghai with the assistance of a community of artists.

Standing an impressive 10.2 metres tall and stretching 19.8 metres long, Zhang’s Rising will permanently occupy the street-side plaza of the Shangri-La Hotel on Toronto’s University Avenue. Bridging the sky and the ground, the sculpture’s delicate extensions lift the eye upward even as its shape and weight emphasize its own earthbound immobility. Zhang has layered meaning into the sculpture; seen from one angle it is a twisted root and from another it is a dragon.

Members of the public are invited to witness the dramatic unveiling of Rising on May 5, 2012 at 1 p.m. in front of the Shangri-La Hotel, Toronto on the corner of University Ave. and Adelaide St. in downtown Toronto.

Adding another unique dimension to the celebration of Zhang Huan, the Canadian Opera Company closes its 2011/2012 season with the company premiere of George Frideric Handel’s Semele, directed and set-designed by Zhang. Described by the New York Times as “scenically stunning, theatrically absorbing, musically rewarding,” Semele marked Zhang’s directorial debut when this production premiered in Brussels in 2009. Combining elements of eastern and western mythology, the staging features an original Ming dynasty ancestral temple, dissembled and shipped to Toronto especially for this performance. A sparkling and seductive Italian Baroque opera about the pitfalls of romance between gods and mortals, Semele runs for eight performances at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts on May 9, 11, 13, 16, 19, 22, 24 and 26, 2012.

Born in 1965 in He Nan Province, China, Zhang currently lives and works in Shanghai. A multi-disciplinary artist, his practice utilizes various media, including photography, installation, sculpture and painting. After nearly 10 years in New York City, where he became famous for provocative performances that subjected his own body to challenging tests of endurance, Zhang returned to Shanghai in 2005 and shifted to an object-based practice. He is represented by the Pace Gallery in New York.

Zhang Huan: Ash Paintings and Memory Doors is organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario.

The exhibition is generously supported by Sandra L. Simpson and the Hal Jackman Foundation.

Contemporary programming at the AGO is generously supported by the Canada Council for the Arts.

The AGO acknowledges the generous support of its Signature Partners:
American Express, Signature Partner of the Conservation Program; and Aeroplan, Signature Partner of the Photography Collection Program.


With a collection of more than 80,000 works of art, the Art Gallery of Ontario is among the most distinguished art museums in North America. From the vast body of Group of Seven and signature Canadian works to the African art gallery, from the cutting-edge contemporary art to Peter Paul Rubens’ masterpiece The Massacre of The Innocents, the AGO offers an incredible art experience with each visit. In 2002 Kenneth Thomson’s generous gift of 2,000 remarkable works of Canadian and European art inspired Transformation AGO, an innovative architectural expansion by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry that in 2008 resulted in one of the most critically acclaimed architectural achievements in North America. Highlights include Galleria Italia, a gleaming showcase of wood and glass running the length of an entire city block, and the often-photographed spiral staircase, beckoning visitors to explore. The AGO has an active membership program offering great value, and the AGO’s Weston Family Learning Centre offers engaging art and creative programs for children, families, youth and adults. Visit to find out more about upcoming special exhibitions, to learn about eating and shopping at the AGO, to register for programs and to buy tickets or memberships.

May 1, 2012: Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris

October 20, 2012: Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics and Painting

The Art Gallery of Ontario is funded in part by the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. Additional operating support is received from the City of Toronto, the Canada Council for the Arts and generous contributions from AGO members, donors and private-sector partners.


For more information on Zhang Huan: Ash Paintings and Memory Doors at the AGO, please contact:

Andrea-Jo Wilson; News Officer, Communications
416-979-6660, ext. 403,

Caitlin Coull; Manager, Communications
416-979-6660, ext. 364,

For more information on the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Handel’s Semele, please contact:

Jennifer Pugsley; Canadian Opera Company

For more information on the unveiling of Rising at the Shangri-La Hotel, please contact:

Jill Killeen; Killeen Communications Strategies

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