Shanghai Surprise: Giant Buddha Sculpture Set to Debut on May 12th in Civic Center

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Looks like all systems are go for the fabled giant known as Three Heads Six Arms (2008). Look for it starting Wednesday, May 12, 2010 at 10:00 AM in Civic Center.

But since these 15 tons of copper are 26 feet tall and 60 feet long, you probably won’t be able to miss the spectacle.

All the deets, below.

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SAN FRANCISCO ARTS COMMISSION ANNOUNCES THE WORLD PREMIERE OF ZHANG HUAN’S COLOSSAL THREE HEADS SIX ARMS

A dedication ceremony will be held on May 12, 2010 at 10 a.m. in Joseph L. Alioto Performing Arts Piazza, located across the street from San Francisco’s City Hall.

SAN FRANCISCO, April 14, 2010 – San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, Arts Commission President P.J. Johnston and Director of Cultural Affairs Luis R. Cancel will dedicate a new temporary sculpture by celebrated Chinese artist Zhang Huan at a public ceremony on Wednesday, May 12, 2010 at 10 a.m. Presented in conjunction with the Shanghai-San Francisco Sister City 30th Anniversary Celebration, Zhang’s colossal Three Heads Six Arms (2008) will make its world premiere in the heart of San Francisco’s Civic Center, the Joseph L. Alioto Performing Arts Piazza, which is located across the street from City Hall. Three Heads Six Arms, courtesy of the artist and The Pace Gallery, New York, will be on loan through 2011. The Asian Art Museum and the Arts Commission will sponsor a FREE public program featuring Zhang Huan in conversation with Museum Director Jay Xu on Wednesday, May 12 from 7-8:00 p.m. at the Asian Art Museum (200 Larkin Street in San Francisco), see below for further details.

“The installation of Zhang Huan’s spectacular sculpture in the Civic Center marks a high point in the Shanghai-San Francisco Sister City 30th Anniversary Celebration and a milestone for the San Francisco Arts Commission,” said Mayor Gavin Newsom. “By bringing this incredible work of art to the City, we underscore Shanghai and San Francisco’s bond as two of the world’s most important centers for arts and culture.”

“We are deeply honored that Zhang Huan chose San Francisco as the site for the sculpture’s world premiere,” said P.J. Johnston. “Bringing such an impressive work by an artist of his caliber and renown to San Francisco is a tremendous accomplishment for the San Francisco Arts Commission, and we are delighted that we can provide city residents and tourists with the opportunity to experience this colossal masterpiece in person.”

According to Luis R. Cancel, “Zhang Huan is one of the world’s foremost contemporary artists whose haunting and poignant artworks are layered with existential questions and social commentary. While many people are familiar with his performance art through photographs, not many have had the occasion to experience works that are more representative of his traditional art practice. Three Heads Six Arms is Zhang’s largest sculpture to date, and we are absolutely thrilled to bring it stateside and show it for the first time.”   

Ever more deets, after the jump

                   

Three Heads Six Arms is part of a series of monumental works depicting the fragmented extremities of Buddhist statues. The series was inspired by Zhang’s discovery of religious sculptures that had been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution for sale in a Tibetan market. He began the series in 2006 shortly after moving from New York City to Shanghai where he retired his performance art practice and embraced a more traditional approach to artistic creation. His recent work is characterized by a more overt relationship with traditional Chinese culture and Buddhist iconography. However, he continues to use the body as a primary vehicle for exploring existential questions and expressing emotions, and it is a common thematic thread through his various artworks.

The first sculptures in the Buddha series included nine large-scale copper fingers, which were based on remains he collected during his visit to Tibet. According to Zhang, “When I saw these fragments in Lhasa, a mysterious power impressed me. They’re embedded with historical and religious traces, just like the limbs of a human being.” The fingers of Buddhist deities are considered highly symbolic because they convey different spiritual meanings through various hand gestures, or mudras. Zhang continued the series with several even larger sculptures combining the legs, feet, hands and heads of Buddhist deities. The artist, having been deeply moved by the sight of the desecrated statues, believes that by recreating these fragments on a grand scale, he is able to alleviate the pain caused by their destruction.
Standing over 26 feet tall and weighing almost fifteen tons, Three Heads Six Arms is Zhang’s largest sculpture to date. He began the sculpture by sketching a few ink drafts of Three Heads Six Arms. His assistants then created a miniature, approximately 5′ x 5′ x 3′ clay sculpture that was based on the ink sketches. Once Zhang approved the clay maquette, his assistants constructed a glass-steel model. He then turned the design over to his copper workshop, which is one of nine specialized workshops that comprise his Shanghai studio complex, to build an enlarged copper construct. The hands and body were enlarged directly in accordance to the glass-steel model. However, the head section presented Zhang with several challenges.

Since the expressions on the faces were so elaborate, subtle changes in detail were especially difficult to realize. In order to overcome these issues, Zhang and his assistants created one large-scale isometric clay sculpture by welding together a steel structure and overlaying it with clay. The forging specialist hammered out the copper skin over the clay head model, and the final head was pieced together after all the individual faces were finished.  According to Zhang, “When using pieces of copper to make Buddhist images, I like to keep the original character of the copper and the traces of the welding. For me, pieces of copper are like stitched skin after an operation.”

“The shape of Three Heads Six Arms came from my correlation of it with the Chinese mythological character Nezha, inspiration came from Tibetan Buddhist sculptures. I replaced two of the three Buddha heads with human heads,” said Zhang. Among the sculpture’s three heads is a self-portrait of the artist. In his earlier performances and photographs, Zhang always placed himself at the center of the action. Using his own body as his primary medium, he would subject himself to extreme physical trials and exploits often in front of large audiences. By introducing himself into the Buddha series, he reinstates this practice and draws a parallel between the body of Buddhist deities and his own. Zhang has been quoted in a past interview with curator and art historian RoseLee Goldberg as saying, “To me, the objects that I am making now are still very theatrical. I see them as motionless performance art.” Three Heads Six Arms exemplifies how the layers of ideas explored in his performance pieces have carried through to his more traditional studio practice. “Three Heads Six Arms reflects the changing realities of Chinese people today and also reflects the attitude that humankind has conquered nature and even reflects deeds of volition and hope,” said Zhang.

INFORMATION:    Visit www.sfartscommission.org or www.asianart.org or call (415) 581-3500

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9 Responses to “Shanghai Surprise: Giant Buddha Sculpture Set to Debut on May 12th in Civic Center”

  1. [...] more information about this inspiration, check out this detailed article on SF CITIZEN. As you’ll discover there, “The artist, having been deeply moved by the sight of the [...]

  2. [...] A Sculpture Called ‘Three Heads, Six Arms’ By slyder24 Last week a new sculpture was installed at the Civic Center. A copper-sheathed work by Shanghai artist Zing Huan, it’s titled ‘Three Heads, Six Arms’.The title refers to the artist’s experience in a market in Tibet, where he saw parts of Buddha statues that had been dismantled by the Chinese government. So it’s a protest piece.It stands 26 feet tall and weighs 15 tons. Engineers had to make sure it wouldn’t fall through to the parking garage below. It is a gift to San Francisco from the city of Shanghai, commemorating our thirty years as sister cities.Unfortunately it has to be fenced off so people won’t climb on it. But you can still see it and appreciate its beauty.This sculpture is a real gem and we are lucky to have it. You can read the whole scoop here. [...]

  3. [...] did they link. They quoted my whole post and put it on their site. No joke. They presumably read the fascinating article to which I linked, detailing how the artist found discarded, desecrated and plundered religious art and created this [...]

  4. Casey says:

    What happened to the liberal’s “Separation of Church & State”? Crosses, nativity displays are banned, but we can all bow to the new buddha statue! What a bunch of hypocrites we have in S.F.!!!

  5. GG says:

    Buddhism is not a religion

  6. [...] back at our place, in front of City Hall, they had this Buddha statue called Three Heads Six Arms. It really was gigantic and imposing right in front of city hall and I loved it. I hope you like [...]

  7. [...] city hall who are sitting on their mats and meditating. I think they are there because of the giant Buddha sculpture which is on display nearby.   [...]

  8. [...] city hall who are sitting on their mats and meditating. I think they are there because of the giant Buddha sculpture which is on display [...]