His career took off internationally when he moved to New York in 1998 and staged a much-discussed performance at the museum P.S.1 for the opening of the exhibition "Inside Out: New Chinese Art." For that piece, he created a ritual that involved lying naked on a bed of ice. It also involved dogs, prefiguring the San Francisco performance that took place at the Asian Art Museum.
In 2006, he moved back to China, this time to Shanghai, a return that coincided with his embrace of more traditional art forms. Jay Xu, the director of the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, calls Zhang "one of the pioneers of contemporary Chinese art" for "courageous performances that take on thorny social issues."
He sees the artist's turn to sculpture as "a major change, from being explosive and expressive to being more introspective."
The artist discusses the change in similar terms, as something personal as well as philosophical. But he sees something of a through-line too, connecting his early, radical performances to later, monumental statues such as "Three Heads."
"When I was doing the performances, I was trying to transcend my body and achieve a contemplative state, a meditative state," he says. "This sculpture is another expression of what I've been thinking about for the last decade."