Zhang Hui


In a recent conversation, Zhang Hui recounted the story of an early twentieth-century artist who painted a picture of his garden but realized afterward that he had left a tree out of the composition. So he took an ax and chopped down the tree. For Zhang, the act of seeing is likewise a highly subjective act, one that fundamentally affects one’s practice. The artist missed the tree, Zhang said, because the composition in the artist’s mind had already superseded reality, had erected a selective “blind spot.” Eradicating the tree from reality defied traditional ideas of truth, and represented a violent and poetic act against objectivity.

Zhang thought the artist in question was Max Ernst. After our conversation, however, Zhang discovered that the story was about Ernst’s father, a domineering patriarch and amateur painter who deliberately omitted the tree from his painting because it created

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