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October 27, 2004

Rhymes With Blow

Lately there's been some local ink devoted to international art stars and part-time Bridgeport residents "the Zhou (Pronounced 'Joe') Brothers" on the occassion of their dual exhibitions at the Elmhurst Art Museum and the Chicago Cultural Center. Alan G. Artner of the Trib says, Finally they're a phenomenon and Mark Athitakis from the Sun-Times has us Getting in sync with the Zhou Brothers, while Michael Workman of Newcity is busy getting down with the Big brothers.

All detail the brothers' fascinating partnership. All chronicle their fabulous journey from East to West and back again. Workman, for his part, really gets out of hand with the poetic description, captivated as he is by Benzos, Appletinis and the Zhous' "flowing black manes." Remarkably absent from all of this, however, is any real discussion of the art. But I suppose this is just as well; their paintings are cold and formulaic, and I suspect these writers know it. But assignments beckon and so we're treated to the lovely bios of these supposed neglected local heroes.

Check Athitakis:

"...When we came to this country, we were looking for a bigger stage. We had come to this country by invitation, but we came here to start another dream—for the biggest international stage that we could have."
That mission has been accomplished—at least overseas and in the international art market, where one of their paintings or sculptures can sell for $250,000. But esteem within Chicago has sometimes been stingy. Obligations overseas take the Zhous away from the city seven to eight months a year, and the Zhous are well aware that neither the Art Institute of Chicago nor the Museum of Contemporary Art owns one of their works.
"In Chicago for the past 10 to 20 years, they've only had smaller gallery shows—nothing that really speaks to their reputation," said Lanny Silverman, the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs' curator of exhibitions and one of the Zhou Brothers' exhibit's organizers.
Opinions vary as to why. "I think that their earlier work, which is very visceral, almost caveman-like, wasn't something that was popular here," said Scott Ashley, assistant director of River North's Perimeter Gallery, which is exhibiting some of the Zhous' most recent paintings through Oct. 19. "Here, the interest was in more formal abstraction, or things that were more poppy."
"They're unique in that they've had this ability to move from culture to culture in their work," said Dr. Wu Hung, an art history professor at the University of Chicago and co-curator of the MCA's current exhibit of contemporary Chinese photography and video art. He notes that such flexibility, however, makes the Zhous somewhat out of step within contemporary Chinese art. "They're more like Western artists. For some people, they're hard to place."
Silverman suggests that another issue may be simple jealousy. "Some people might resent their success," he said. "But as good as they are at playing the art game, they're also good at being supportive of other artists."
Da Huang is diplomatic about the matter. "We have many pieces in many other museum collections, and if in Chicago they don't have our paintings, they must have their reasons," he says. "But that's not our concern. Our concern is with what we're going to create."

Peep Workman:

None of this commercial luxe deters either Da Huang or Shan Zuo from a heady stream of socializing, both decked out in tuxedos, effortlessly trading one conversationalist for another. As deft at the art-world game as they are with a brush, their canvases and sculptures now command as much as a cool quarter million. And no wonder. As they're talking, they move a circle of admirers downstairs, into a massive room where their work hangs for them to "live with it for awhile," as Shan Zuo explains. It's absolutely packed; even the DJ's wearing a suit. They stroll through the throng of guests, past servers wielding trays of crème brulee in silver spoons, past piles of empty martini and champagne glasses. It's definitely a party, but also a celebration of their art and the brothers love every minute of it. No doubt they'll also love every minute of the retrospective "Zhou Brothers: 30 Years of Collaboration" going up simultaneously at two Chicago institutions in the next few weeks.

Now sober up with Paul Klein, who offered a more honest (if typically gentle) take on the Zhous at Perimeter last month:

And as much as I am a sucker for things Chinese this show by the Zhou Brothers is not one of them. They make competent abstract paintings that feel like high-decorator to me, just plain void of emotion, feeling, or meaning. The Zhou Brothers themselves are fascinating individuals working together as a team with a great studio space. And a lot of people like their work.

"Rhymes With Blow"
Posted by Dan at 05:49 PM

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Referenced in this post:

Art Letter (9/24/04)
Chicago Cultural Center
Chicago Sun-Times: Getting in sync with the Zhou Brother—Mark Athitakis
Chicago Tribune: Finally they're a phenomenon—Alan G. Artner
Elmhurst Art Museum: Zhou Brothers: 30 Years of Collaboration
Merceds-Benz
Newcity: Big Brothers—Michael Workman
Perimeter Gallery: Zhou Brothers—New Works