"Idealism" (Mask Series 2003 No.1) by Zeng Fanzhi – Although best known for his "Mask" series of paintings, Zeng's work has undergone numerous reinventions over his thirty year career.
"Inner peace" (2013) by Zeng Fanzhi – Co-curator of the exhibition and director of the UCCA in Beijing, Philip Tinari, says despite the eye-popping prices Zeng's works attract, they wanted the exhibition to focus on art, not money. "One thing we are trying to accomplish with this show is to give a sense of this artist beyond the discussion around the market for his works," he says.
"A Man in Melancholy" (1990) by Zeng Fanzhi – Zeng studied art at the Hubei Institute of Fine Arts in China in the late 1980s and began a career in advertising after he graduated. He quit his job and moved to Beijing to become a full-time artist in 1993 after some of his early works were purchased by an influential art collector.
Mask Series No.11 (1996) by Zeng Fanzhi – A year after he arrived in Beijing, Zeng started to produce his iconic "Mask" series, paintings that reflect the alienation he felt while settling into the city's newly-rich, rapidly changing society. Zeng has said that he believed people in the Chinese capital hid their true identities from each other and themselves.
"Hospital Triptych No.2" (1992) by Zeng Fanzhi – The exhibition "includes about 60 works," says Tinari. "The earliest comes from 1990 and the most recent were just completed last month, in the studio, and together they give us a sense of an artist and how his career has progressed."
"Parcours" (1990) by Zeng Fanzhi – "He's very unique among Chinese artists in that he didn't get attached to a specific motif, or even style, and he's kind of continually reinvented himself over these years," Tinari says.
"Meat" (1992) by Zeng Fanzhi – This painting is from the artist's "Meat" series. These paintings are among some of his earliest works and were inspired by the outdoor butcheries that surrounded his then-home.
"Portrait" (2004) by Zeng Fanzhi – "Putting together a show like this is always an extended exercise in persuasion because you have to convince collectors and institutions to temporarily part with objects that are very dear to them," says Tinari.
"Lucian Freud" (2015) by Zeng Fanzhi – "Together the show is a portrait of him as an artist, but we see in these portraits his relationships with people he knows, his dealer and some of his collectors, his friends, himself, but also with figures from art history, with whom he feels a special connection -- so specifically people like Lucien Freud and Francis Bacon," Tinari says.
"Lucian Freud" (2011) by Zeng Fanzhi – "I think at the end of the day it's really about a person trying to make sense of his own position in relation to society but also to the history of that society, and to this number of long and kind of grand traditions of cultural output," Tinari adds of Zeng's introspective approach to his art.
"Old Brother" (2004) by Zeng Fanzhi – "The idea of the artist reinventing himself, finding a new footing, a new language, a new set of questions, is what keeps the work urgent, relevant and connected to its historical moment," Tinari explains.
"Blue" (2015) by Zeng Fanzhi – More recently, Zeng has started to paint landscapes that incorporate visual forms drawn from traditional Chinese culture, especially classical gardens.
"The Hare" (2012) by Zeng Fanzhi – "Now interestingly, in the most recent works, he's kind of turned away from that entirely and doubled down on the long and grand tradition of Chinese painting," Tinari says.
"Laocoön" (2015) by Zeng Fanzhi – "Zeng Fanzhi: Parcours" is showing at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, China from September 19 to November 19, 2016.