Transnational artist Zhang Hongtu lives in New York, having emigrated from China in the 1980s out of a fear of persecution for religious discrimination. Zhang is one of the most successful experimental Chinese artists of his generation, which strived to blend personal experiences of the Cultural Revolution with a Western Pop art stylistic approach. The result of this collective exercise was the appearance of the Political Pop wave in the early 1990s. The movement aimed at deconstructing the visual culture of Socialist Realism that had pervaded China for more than forty years. With contempt for previous socially engaged artistic movements, the artists drew their visual references from the Cultural Revolution but expunged their original political charge.
By distorting the references and juxtaposing them with signs from the consumerist world, these new tropes undermine the authority of the demagogic message of Socialist Realism. In Mai Dang Lao (McDonald’s), Zhang has adorned the Happy Meal container with traditional motifs associated with Chinese ritual bronze vessels used in the ancestor cult during the Bronze Age period and combined it with the iconic logo of the consumer giant. Zhang is playing with our assumptions about consumer culture as he transforms the Happy Meal into a religious icon.
Zhang’s art is informed by cultural distance, focusing on the most pressing cultural issues of our time, namely the expansion and permutation of cultures with the compression, convergence and dissipation of geographic boundaries. His art questions our prejudices and local values stemming from a restricted perception of the world, at a time when cultures that once seemed to exist as stable entities in isolation from one another no longer do.