In the Sign of the Dragon

"My sister", 2003
"My sister", 2003

Yongbo Zhao was born in 1964 as the only son of the headmaster in the community of Hailong in the province of Jilin, Manchuria, People's Republic of China. He has four older sisters, two of whom die at a young age. The exact date of Yongbo's birth is not known. His mother has it registered in the registry office in such a way that it falls into the sign of the dragon, because this means fourfold blessing: wealth, virtue, harmony and long life.


A Great Talent

"My house", before 1991
"My house", before 1991

Yongbo's artistic talent is recognized early on. Already in primary school he paints his designs on the blackboard at the teacher's request, so that his classmates can learn from him. He is commissioned to paint rooms and walls. In 1980 he is brought to the attention of Professor Jian Guan of the Jilin Provincial Painting Academy, who invites him to attend a one-month painting course. In a letter to Yongbo's father, the professor confirms: "Your son is a great talent."


Artist of the People's Republic of China

Photo: Andreas Kaiser
Photo: Andreas Kaiser

From 1982 to 1986 Yongbo Zhao studies painting at Northeast Normal University in Changchun. He's obsessed with working. First exhibitions and prizes follow. From 1986 to 1991 he teaches Western painting and art history at the same university. In the meantime, his fame reaches the capital. In 1987 he is awarded the first prize of the "All-Chinese Art Exhibition in honour of the 60th birthday of the People's Liberation Army" at the National Art Museum of China, Beijing. In 1990 he is included in the "Great Encyclopedia of Contemporary Chinese Artists". In the same year he participates as one of 15 Chinese artists in the International Asian-European Art Biennial in Ankara, Turkey.


The Great Journey or The Discovery of the Occident

In Yongbo Zhao, the desire to see the old European masters in their original version is overwhelming; at that time in China they are available only in poor colour reproductions. He decides to continue his studies in the West. After an adventurous journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway and with a suitcase full of illustrated books he acquired in Moscow, he arrives in Germany in 1991. After several unsuccessful applications to art academies, which fail mainly because of the language barrier, he is finally accepted into the painting class of Professor Robin Page at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. Through his experience of freedom and his encounter with Western art, however, he is unable to continue painting as before. For three years he lets the brush rest, studying instead the paintings of Monet, Courbet, Rubens, the Pre-Raphaelites and other European masters in the museums. He moves into a studio in the Domagkstraße in Munich, where he still works today.


The Master Student

Ophelia and Mao I (diptych), 1994
Ophelia and Mao I (diptych), 1994

In 1994 Yongbo Zhao paints his first big diptych in Germany: "Ophelia and Mao". Here, he suddenly reveals what makes his painting so unique and unmistakable to this day: In virtuoso old masterly technique, provocative and subversive in his statement, he combines the myths and idols of the Occident with those of Chinese communist society and at the same time radically challenges both. After this spectacular debut, the first exhibitions are not long in coming. In 1995 he participates for the first time in an important European art fair, the Art Nocturne Knocke, Belgium. In 1996 he founds the artist group "Neue Helden" together with Robin Page and Erich Gohl. Their manifesto states that "Unbearable for living room walls, the pictures belong behind the barbed wire of the museums of great heroic battles of meanings". In the same year he creates the series "Revolutionary Family", in which he portrays himself and his family as sheep's heads. In 1997 he participates for the first time in the Great Art Exhibition at the Haus der Kunst, Munich. In 1998 he graduates from the Academy of Arts as a master student.



In 1999 Yongbo Zhao is selected for the "Florence Biennale II" and for the second time for the Great Art Exhibition at the Haus der Kunst in Munich. In 2000 he joins the Munich artists' association "Münchener Secession". This year also marks the beginning of his intensive collaboration with Galerie KK Klaus Kiefer in Essen, which has represented him ever since and shows his works at art fairs such as Art Karlsruhe. In 2002, the Folkwang Museum in Essen acquires Yongbo Zhao's "The rape of the Sabines". From now on, exhibitions in galleries and museums at home and abroad follow in rapid succession: Reykjavik Art Museum, Island (2000), Cubus Kunsthalle Duisburg (2001, 2002), Erotic Art Museum Hamburg (2002), Museum Galgenhaus, Berlin (2003), Zitadelle Spandau, Berlin (2005), Essenheimer Kunstverein (2007), to name but a few. In the touring exhibition "Life as a Legend: Marilyn Monroe" Zhao's "Marilyn II" tours museums in Europe, the USA and Canada (2003-2011).

2008 ff.

"Hearty Laughter" or  The Accolade

Catalogue of Prestel
Catalogue of Prestel

In 2008, the renowned Prestel-Verlag publishes the first comprehensive illustrated book on Yongbo Zhao's pictorial work entitled "Das große Lachen" (Hearty Laughter). In it, Gottfried Knapp describes why this work "stands out from the flood of today's so successful, nimble genre paintings": "Through the incomprehensible technical mastery with which Zhao has revived a painting culture that has been largely forgotten in Europe, and through the anarchic impetus with which he continues to think, transform, and deconstruct the contents and stylistic forms of the Old Masters and exposes them to the hearty laughter that he likes to take on in his paintings.“ It is the accolade of German art criticism.


In 2012, he is included in the famous series "Junge Kunst" (Young Art) of the publishing house Klinckhardt & Biermann and so is next to names such as Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Emil Nolde and Johannes Grützke. The astonishing spiritual affinity with the latter and with two other icons of art history reveal work shows such as "Yongbo Zhao and Johannes Grützke" (Kunsthalle Ammersee, Stegen, 2009) or "Provocation! Goya, Daumier and Yongbo Zhao - Critics and Mockers of their Times" (Kunsthaus Kaufbeuren, 2009, Städtische Galerie "Fähre", Bad Saulgau, 2013, Kallmann-Museum, Ismaning, 2014). Further highlights of the last decade are solo exhibitions in the Rosenheim Museum Offenbach (2010) and in the Zitadelle Spandau Berlin (2013).

2012 ff.

Wandering between two Cultures

Foto: Andreas Kaiser
Photo: Andreas Kaiser

In his old homeland, Yongbo Zhao has been following in his footsteps in recent years. As a visiting professor and professor he teaches at several art academies (Jilin University of Arts, Heilongjiang Academy of Fine Arts, Heilongjiang Academy of Contemporary Art, Northeast Normal University, Changchun, Capital Normal University, Beijing). In 2012, the Sanmu International Art Gallery in Beijing's Art Zone 798 presents the solo exhibition "Yongbo Zhao - A Critic and Mocker of his Time". From here, his painting "Circulation II" finds its way into one of the most important public collections of Chinese contemporary art, the White Rabbit Collection in Sidney, Australia. Since 2013/2014, two of his works have been owned by the Imperial Edict Museum, Xuzhou, and the National Art Museum of China, Beijing ("He simply can't be buried I", "Don't overstretch the bow!"). So Yongbo Zhao travels to China several times a year, but his main focus is on Bavaria. As an artist he prefers to work in Munich. Together with his German wife and their children, he lives in nearby Krailling, which honours him with a solo exhibition at the town hall in 2012 on the occasion of the 925th anniversary celebration. The commuters in the suburban train between Munich and Krailing know him and sometimes they whisper:"Hush! Yongbo is drawing!"   

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