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First solo exhibition in the UK by the conceptual Chinese artist Zhao Yao opens at Pace
Spirit Above All III- 69, acrylic on denim, 200 x 222 x 8 cm, 2012, Zhao Yao, courtesy Pace London.

LONDON.- Pace London presents Spirit Above All, the first solo exhibition in the UK by the conceptual Chinese artist Zhao Yao. Spirit Above All will be on view at 6-10 Lexington Street from 12 February to 16 March 2013. The exhibition is a collaborative project between Pace London and Beijing Commune.

Spirit Above All features seven new works created by Zhao Yao in 2012 and marks the first time that he has contextualised his paintings with photographic backdrops in a gallery. The exhibition features abstract geometric compositions painted in black, white, and grey on pieces of denim, a material that is recognised for its durability. Once completed, the artist brought the artworks to Tibet to be blessed by a “Living Buddha”, a reincarnation of a previous Buddha according to the Buddhist religious doctrine. Zhao Yao documented this process through photographs of the Tibetan landscape, which not only provide backdrops in the gallery but will also be presented in albums for visitors to look at while seated on the straw mats that form part of the installation.

Zhao Yao is fascinated by the relationship between art and its audience, and focuses on the progression of his own works. This creates an on-going cycle of self-assessment, and reconstruction of the old to produce the new, a process the artist describes as “self-consumption”.

This exhibition is an extension of the series A Painting of Thought, presented at Beijing Commune in 2011 and 2012, for which Zhao Yao borrowed geometric patterns from brain-teaser puzzles. This familiar visual language, further explored in this exhibition, diverts the focus from the apparent Modernist formality of the works and instead invites the viewer to reflect on their perceptions of the work. The interaction with the artwork and the self-consciousness of the viewer is at the crux of Zhao Yao’s art.

“The attention should never be on the paintings themselves, which I deliberately repeat in different series to deconstruct their visual power, but the concept behind the forms. I am interested in the way we look at exhibitions and how our pre-existing knowledge, whether cultural, religious or political, affects our perception of art. I like to provide context for my works, but not to disclose my own opinion so the discussion can remain open. In the same way that the puzzles I use aim at training one’s brain to think logically, I want my exhibitions to challenge people’s conventional way of looking at art.” Zhao Yao, 2012.

Spirit Above All, I-10, the titular piece of the exhibition, consists of nine matchsticks that are placed in a particular sequence on top of each other, laid on top of dyed blue denim. While the interplay between the hard-lined foreground geometry and soft background can be disorienting, “the whole experience of the artwork”, as described by Zhao Yao, puts into relief our instinctive interpretation of art. How does knowledge impact the way one understands an artwork? The artist’s proposal is to omit familiar references and challenge spectators to respond honestly and without preconceptions.

Zhao Yao (b. in 1981 in Luzhou, Sichuan Province) graduated from the Design Department of Sichuan Fine Arts Institute. Zhao Yao’s works have been widely exhibited in China, with three major solo exhibitions at Beijing Commune and Taikang Space in Beijing. He has been featured in a number of international group exhibitions including the No Soul for Sale festival at Tate Modern, London (2010); The Knife's Edge at the Fremantle Arts Centre, Fremantle (2011); and currently in Global Groove at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum in Michigan (until 24 February). Zhao Yao lives and works in Beijing.

Located at the heart of the 798 Art District, Beijing Commune was founded in 2004. The gallery’s original programme was meant to survey the current topics of contemporary art through large-scale group exhibitions.

Throughout the past decade, the gallery’s ambition has evolved towards promoting individual artists through a series of solo exhibitions. Alongside a staple list of established figures, Beijing Commune sought to further foster its position in the forefront of contemporary art by taking on board young talents. Having presented some of the most career-defining solo exhibitions of highly acclaimed artists Zhang Xiaogang, Yue Minjun, Song Dong, Yin Xiuzhen, Hong Hao, and Liu Jianhua, the gallery continues to cultivate the careers of emerging artists such as Wang Guangle, Liang Yuanwei, Hu Xiaoyuan, Ma Qiusha, Zhao Yao, Xie Molin, and Huang Yuxing.

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