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Chinese art star Zhang Huan makes rare appearance in California, this time not naked

May 14, 2010 |  5:00 am
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The last time that the Chinese art star Zhang Huan made a public appearance in San Francisco, just over a decade ago, he was lying face down on an uprooted tree, naked, covered with dog food. A pack of nine dogs, invited to participate in his performance, fought for the chance to lick it off. One bit the artist.

This week, Zhang flew into town from Shanghai for the dedication ceremony for "Three Heads, Six Arms": a 15-ton, two-story tall sculpture, considered the artist's largest to date, which has been installed in the plaza in front of City Hall. The San Francisco Arts Commission brought the work to town as part of its public art program and as a way of promoting a "sister city" alliance with Shanghai.

It was, to say the least, a more welcoming event. For starters, the artist was fully clothed, wearing baggy gray pants and jacket. And this time, it was a mixed crowd, with schoolchildren, a few Buddhist monks, and some prominent Chinese American business leaders in the audience and Mayor Gavin Newsom among the speakers.

But perhaps the biggest difference was the artwork itself: a child-friendly, plaza-ready sculpture, from one of China's most radical artists.

Zhang described this shift in his work, which has been the talk of the art world, during the ceremony: "I spent more than 10 years doing performance art. I was young and energetic, and I had strong hormones in my body, so I wanted to use them up. Now I'm 45, and my hormone levels are dropping."

For the full story on the three-headed sculpture, which the artist sees as both god and devil, click here.

-- Jori Finkel

Follow the writer on Twitter @jorifinkel.

Photo of Zhang Huan's "Three Arms, Six Legs" by Brian van der Brug for the Los Angeles Times.

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