Friday, November 21, 2014

Zhao Zhao’s in “Zero Tolerance” at MoMA PS1.

Artworks in this show is far from beauty and happiness. It is rather brutal and harsh. It shows the contemporary world’s tensions between freedom and control, and explores artists’ responses towards our society’s various controversial issues, such as violation of human rights, racial or sexual discriminations, and wars. In this exhibition, Chinese artist Zhao Zhao, who is known for following in Ai Weiwei’s footsteps shows his two photographs, “Cobblestone”, and “On Guard.”

 In 2013, Zhao was held in investigative custody for 12 days by the Chinese government, without any official explanation, and his two photographs in Zero Tolerance confront the Chinese government’s controls and regulations. Through the works he is questioning the role of authority in China. In “On Guard,” the artist wears a police officer’s uniform and stands in Tiananmen Square  in Beijing, the capital of China.

 The work shows Zhao wearing the uniform and includes people’s reactions around him. Zhao is just standing there without any gesture or words. It is hard to figure out whether he is protesting against the government or accepting the authority. Even though both Ai Weiwei and Zhao have made their works a tool to reflect and criticize the social issues in contemporary China, there are differences between Zhao and Weiwei’s styles. Zhao’s protest is more subtle compared to Weiwei’s direct approach. Weiwei demonstrates outspoken and obvious intensions in his art works. For instance, he has even used broken rebar from a collapsed school building from Sichuan province, China, to criticize Chinese government’s poor constructions in one of his recent works. Unlike Weiwei's straight-forward and strong confrontational style, Zhao’s works are indirect and conceptual.

In “Cobblestone,” Zhao is gluing a tiny stone on the ground of Tiananmen Square. His action can be interpreted as a symbolic gesture, and seems to demonstrate against the control by gluing a tiny stone in Tiananmen Square which embodies the authority of Chinese government. The scale of a tiny stone and enormous Tiananmen Square in comparison with each other leaves a powerful impression on viewers. Maybe the tiny stone is a symbol of irregularity which can be a starting point to breaking the gigantic social contract, and representing Zhao’s voice protesting against the restrictions in contemporary China. 



  1. Tiffany, your review does a good job of explaining to the reader what the two pieces are and what they mean. I also like how you compare and contrast Zhao Zhao’s work with Ai Weiwei’s. The introduction about Zero Tolerance seems weaker than the rest of the review; elaborate on the show as a whole and then relate Zhao Zhao’s photographs to the overall meaning of the show again at the end. Also I would be interested to know if Zhao faced any direct consequences for either or both of these two works. Overall nice review, you chose interesting pieces.

  2. Hi Tiffany, I really like your comparison between Zhao Zhao and Ai Weiwei in this review. Their works have lots of similarities. I agree that their subject matters reflect social issues in China commonly. Otherwise, personally, I think Zhao Zhao's action at the photo is more straight-forward in terms of gluing the stone on the ground in Tiananmen Square directly in reality to me. I want to see some conclusion at the last paragraph. Through your review, I have learned his Zhao's photograph and it is great review.