BY SARAH COLEMAN
The terms "Chinese art" and "sexually explicit" don't often go together, but in the case of painter Zhang Xiao Tao, the two elements combine to form works that are at once subtle and explosive. This young Chinese artist, whose works are seen here for the first time in the United States, begins many of his paintings by taking diagrams from Chinese sex manuals. After printing these drawings of entangled couples in wallpaper-like patterns on large canvases, Zhang then paints over the figures with delicate, pastel-toned splotches that suggest both primordial ooze and some slightly more intimate fluids. With a wink toward traditional Chinese decorative arts, he also includes such animals as snakes, frogs, and crocodiles in the works Ñ but here, the frogs are copulating, the snakes are intimately entwined, and even the crocodile has a lascivious glint in its eye. In one particularly bold series called "The Enlarged Prop," giant, neon-bright condoms float in space while anguished faces peer out from within them, a symbolism that refers to China's one-child policy and its associated problems and pains. Zhang, who was born in 1970, belongs to a generation of Chinese artists that has been able to exercise comparative freedom of expression Ñ but the freedom hasn't made him complacent. Though his work might at first seem dominated by an effusion of color and pattern, it rapidly becomes clear that its decorative elements are there to enhance the power of the work's bawdiness and its political subtext. It's rare to find work that combines conceptual and political features so successfully; the delicate irony of Zhang's work makes for an impressive debut.
Evening with the artist Tues/15, 7-9 p.m. "Contemporary Art in China" lecture by the artist, Tues/22, 7:30-9 p.m., Mills College, Danforth Building, Rm. 120.
Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. (Thurs., 11 a.m.-8 p.m.), 95 Linden, Oakland. (510) 451-8840.
Pacific Bridge Contemporary Southeast Asian Art, 95 Linden Street #6, Oakland CA 94607
Tel. (510) 45I - 8840 Fax. (510) 45I - 8806 email. firstname.lastname@example.org
Gallery hours: Tuesday through Saturday 11 am - 6 pm.