O Zhang: 2020: I am your Monolith

O Zhang


sep 26 – nov 1, 2020

TU–F: 2–6 PM; SA: 11 AM–6 PM; M, SU: CLOSED

Please note that this exhibition is by appointment only. Book your visit here


2020 has been an unforgettable year. The whole world has experienced extreme hardship due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. In April, New York City was the global epicenter of the coronavirus. During the peak week of the infection in April, 23 people died every hour. Many of my photos were taken during that period. I wanted to record this never-before-seen ghost town of New York.

Since then, I have gone out regularly to photograph the city in crisis. After taking thousands of photos, I realized the most interesting visual contrast was between the boarded-up high-end stores, such as Chanel, Gucci, Fendi, and many more — stores that symbolize vast wealth and exclusivity, the most glorified image of New York City — and the ugly, hastily installed plywood panels. Some of the boards are used to protect the windows against looting; Some are used to cover up the shattered windows in the aftermath; Some are used to seal the businesses that are permanently closed. COVID, protests, chaos, civil unrest have been going on in my city and throughout America for many months, and are still ongoing. In this new reality, these boarded-up stores have become a symbol of the most significant global crisis in recent times, one that threatens the physical, economic, and political health of entire human societies as well as that of individuals and their loved ones. 

In a previous series, I photographed thousands of massive haunting blank billboards throughout America, the fallout of the 2008-2009 financial crisis, and visually very similar to these plywood panels. I like to capture fleeting, seemingly incidental moments that actually signal profound historical shifts. The title of the series is inspired by the black Monolith in Stanley Kubrick’s movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. The large not manmade rectangle stone stands for something otherworldly and ambivalently. Looking into the blankness of these wooden panels in my photos, the makeshift symbolic monoliths of 2020, one can feel a sense of failure and end. The boards also serve as a signal for some new tectonic shift, a metaphor for our new surreal reality.  They presage an unfathomable future in this unprecedented time in history.

O Zhang
New York

About the Artist:

O Zhang is an artist working in photography and mix media. A graduate of Royal College of Art in London and Central Academy of Art in Beijing, she moved to New York in 2004, since then is living, working and traveling between New York and Beijing. O Zhang was the recipient of the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center Artist Fellowship (NY), Wilson Centre for Photography Fellowship and Fuji Film Awards (London), winner of RCA Photography Graduate Award (London), and nominated/short listed for numerous awards including Chinese Contemporary Art Awards (Beijing), Beck’s Future Award (London), Creative Capital Awards and The Louis Comfort Tiffany Biennial Awards (New York).

O Zhang has had solo exhibitions in Beijing, Istanbul, London, Manchester, Vancouver, Philladelphia and New York, has been invited to give artist lecture in Oxford University, New York University, Beijing Central Academy of Fine Art, Beijing Fashion Institute, Guangzhou Academy of Fine Art, Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art. Her work has been included in group shows throughout Europe, America and China, including Kunsthalle Museum (Hamburg), Miro Museum (Barcelona), Kunstmuseum (Bern), Folkwang Museum (Essen), Peabody Essex Museum (MA), UC Berkeley Art Museum (Berkeley), Museum of Contemporary Art (Shanghai), Millennium Monument Art Museum (Beijing) and is in the collections of Guggenheim Museum (NY), Santa Barbara Museum (CA), Clifford Chance Collection (London), Vancouver Art Gallery (Vancouver), Millennium Monument Art Museum collection (Beijing), and other private collections including Uli Sigg collection in Switzerland.

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