I visited the Zhou Brothers, DaHuang and Shan Zuo in their massive studio on a Friday morning right after the new year. The place was buzzing, and people were going to and fro for a reason I did not yet know. Quietly off on the sidelines were Shan Zuo's son Michael and his wife and new baby daughter, all watching the artist duo calmly while apologizing for the chaos. I was only too happy to watch the action: photographers were trying manage the mid-morning light while trying out a variety of poses and angles, and the two brothers were trying to put the final touches on a very important commission. Michael Zhou was about to tell me just who ordered the painting and for whom, but I had to keep the news under wraps until after January 18. A very special figure had requested a painting from the Zhou Brothers to present to a visiting international leader. President Barack Obama planned to give the art work to the President of China, Hu Jintao, for his upcoming visit to Washington. The date of my visit was January 7, barely 10 days before the painting was to be presented, and the artists had just received a green light and managed to wrap up a major painting that would be a part of history.
The painting, "Eight U.S. Presidents and the Great Wall" is an original, multi-textural oil painting on canvas, measuring 86” wide x 68” high. On January 18, 2011 the artists unveiled at the White House their most historical painting to President Obama, as a national gift to His Excellency Hu Jintao, the President of China, on the occasion of the state visit to the White House. This painting was the first time in their artistic career where recognizable figures appeared in their art. These figures are a stylistic representation of the eight American presidents who have governed since the opening of China’s relationship with the U.S. by President Nixon in 1972. This rare honor instigated a refocusing of creative interest in their own personal history which triggered the shift in direction in their latest series. The Zhou Brothers were on hand on January 18, 2011 for the gift exchange between the two Presidents. With White House & State Department staff huddled around, the Zhou brothers explained the significance of the painting, what the gift symbolizes, & their passion for & love of America.
These two brothers have worked together for decades, collaborating on monumental works so large they needed a warehouse space to house them. Their collaborative process is unique, and their artistic range is broad: they create sculptures, paintings, prints, even performances. They've even created the mega art center at 1029 W. 35th street that we've all been getting to know as Chicago's newest art destination. The Zhou Brothers have carried both the United States and their native China with them in their work, and the latest show takes cues from the Presidential commission and continues to expand on history.
TIME: Portrait of History
Through June 12, 2011
Zhou B Art Center, 1029 W. 35th St, Chicago
Some photos from the opening on April 22: