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STATES OF EXCEPTION: THE ART OF ZHANG PEILI

Zhang Peili, X?, 1987, oil on canvas, 39 × 31 1/4". From the series “X?,” 1986–87.

ARTIST ZHANG PEILI has spent his thirty-year career willfully evading categorization. “I’m not a person who sticks to rules,” he noted in a 2011 interview. And as the diversity of his body of work suggests, he has never followed the unwritten rule that the successful artist must develop a recognizable style. There is, however, a label he cannot escape: “the father of video art in China.”

Zhang earned this mantle with 30x30, 1988, a three-hour, unedited, fixed-frame close-up shot of a pair of gloved hands dropping a mirror on the ground, gluing the shards back together, picking it up, and dropping it again, repeatedly. China’s first work of video art, 30x30 is widely hailed as a pioneering innovation, a visually and historically charged interrogation of the moving image. But while the plaudits are well deserved, they are too rarely inflected by a consideration of the work’s initial

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