A Shining Testament
By S.A. Hawkins
If a giant shiny rock crashes to earth in front of the Palm Springs Art Museum, does it make a difference to the art world? Without a doubt it does . . . And it has. The addition of a monumental artificial rock sculpture by noteworthy artist Zhan Wang is giving some much awaited attention to this prestigious art museum.
Zhan Wang has received a great amount of art world attention with his most recent body of work entitled My Personal Universe, initially funded by Louis Vuitton. The original project was a violent combination of a physical, video, photographic and later re-creative performance work that consisted of one giant rock being violently ripped apart in a dynamite fueled explosion. After the violent, action-based element of the artwork was completed, the detail-oriented reproduction ensued. Seven-thousand rock fragments were meticulously collected, cataloged and their final resting place was documented. Each fragment was then replicated in stainless steel and installed just as they had landed post-explosion.
Over the past three decades, Wang has been highly praised for his multitude of projects. Some of his major earlier works include the 1990 Pedestrians, a figurative installation at the Beijing Olympic Complex, the 2001 Inlay of Gold Teeth of the Great Wall in which the artist repaired damaged sections of the Great Wall of China with gold bricks as one would repair a smile with gold teeth and for the 2005 Floating Mountain of Immortals, an enormous stainless steel mountain was installed in the water off of the coast of Belgium.
Artificial Rock #131 at the Palm Springs Art Museum is the most recent iteration of Wang’s nearly 20-year artificial rock series. The sculpture will be on permanent exhibition greeting patrons as they stroll up to the museum—being purchased with funds provided by Donna MacMillian. Glimmering and reflective in the desert sun, perched above a newly installed reflecting pool, Artificial Rock #131 is a shining sight to behold.
Zhan Wang’s series of chromed rock sculptures are referred to by many names: floating stones, artificial rocks, mountains or (the name which I prefer) scholars’ rocks. The term “scholars’ rock” comes out of Chinese tradition and refers to oversized rocks—some 20-plus feet tall—placed as decorative elements within traditional Chinese landscaping. These monumental rocks were chosen for their inherent natural beauty and abstract shaping, caused from eons of erosion. These rocks were placed within courtyards to both facilitate meditation and serenity, having been the favorite contemplative object of Chinese scholars for over a millennia.
The Artificial Rock Series embodies all that is amazing and intriguing about large-scale reflective sculpture. It is massive, overly shiny and its forms include natural undulations and distortion, allowing the ego-driven viewer to see reflections of both themselves and their surrounding environment. The sculpture allows the reflection of the viewers’ reality to be seen in the surface of the object—all-be-it a modified reality—a dream-like reality.
In addition to the Palm Springs Art Museum, Zhan’s extensive Artificial Rock Series can be found scattered across the globe; juxtaposed in front of some of the largest, modern buildings in China, residing in sculpture parks at any of the large art fairs, floating free adrift in the ocean, installed at the summit of mount Everest and eventually even launched into outer space.
This expansive body of work has links both to Wang’s Chinese heritage, but also the industry driven direction in which China is headed. With plans in the work’s to install Artificial Rocks in seven locations across the city of Beijing, Zhan Wang is helping to embrace the past, but also forge a new, shiny future. Zhan creates new versions of these ancient rock forms by hammering stainless steel sheet into shapes over existing “scholars’ rocks,” leading to inherent authenticity with contemporary materials/fabrication techniques.
One of the most exciting aspects of these works is that they aesthetically change and adapt as the surrounding environment changes. Being made from a material such as stainless steel, means that the sculptures will never physically change or rust—they will exist unwavering, silently sitting in one location. Meditatively reflecting all of the changes and advances that are happening in the world around it. As the surrounding environment grows, changes, and advances; the images reflected on the surface of the sculpture will do the same.