The human being, creature of eyes, needs the image. Leonardo da Vinci

Gao Zhen: Execution of Christ

ArtWay Visual Meditation August 25, 2019

Gao Zhen: Execution of Christ


by Wilma Wagenaar

It was a pleasant surprise for me to become acquainted with the work of the contemporary Chinese artist Gao Zhen. His work, often accomplished in collaboration with his younger brother Gao Qiang who now resides in the United States, has been included in the collections of prestigious institutes and international companies such as the Saatchi Gallery (London) and the Centre Pompidou (Paris). He regularly expresses criticism about the Chinese government, which has led to a prohibition of public exhibition of his work. He currently lives in a large industrial complex in Beijing’s 798th Art District amidst his works of art and welcomes interested parties, closely watched by government officials.

His work clearly shows Western influences. I detect the brothers van Eyck and Hieronymus Bosch in many of his works, all in a subtle modern transposition. His sculpture Execution of Christ evokes memories of The Third of May (1808) by Goya.

We see a life-size group of statues in bronze. I suspect it is a processing of the events on Tiananmen Square in 1989, where numerous victims perished in a revolt that was cruelly crushed. The memory of that one, unarmed young man, standing in front of the column of tanks is still etched in the memory of many people.

We see seven armed men, all recognizable as Mao at an older age. One of the Mao’s is standing behind six of them in a half-circle, their rifles directed at one slender man who is iconographically recognizable as Christ. He is dressed in just a loincloth and his hands are partly lifted in a gesture of receiving. Or of submission?

Christ’s eyes are closed, but not fearfully squeezed shut in expectation of the volley of fire or in order not to have to see the firing squad. His face with the eyes closed is relaxed, it radiates peace, as if in prayer. His head is inclined slightly to the front, directed towards the firing squad. There is no defensive posture, no denial, no fleeing. No dramatic act of despair as in the execution scene by Goya, but, in contrast, a quiet, introverted expectation.

We see Christ’s wounded hands. Is there a bullet in the wound? Did it come from the Mao who is standing behind and has already fired? And if yes, what did this bullet bring about in Christ?

No defensive posture, no curse, no pain, no fear, but submission.

This whole vulnerable body is prepared to endure what is to come. This work speaks to me of non-violence, of defenselessness, of turning the other cheek. Of blessing those who curse me and doing good to those who hate me. And of the quiet connection with the Father, who provides the strength to endure.


Gao Zhen: The Execution of Christ, 2009, bronze, life-size. The sculptures may be seen in the apartment of Ghao Zhen in the Art District of Beijing in China. They are not allowed to be exhibited in public in China.

Gao Zhen was born in 1956 and grew up in a family that was under attack from the Chinese authorities. After becoming acquainted with traditional Chinese art Gao Zhen followed the art academy of Shandong. He and his younger brother, with whom he has frequently collaborated, often express themselves critically about the Chinese government. The brutal events in 1989 on Tiananmen Square did not cause Gao Zhen to produce works that were less contentious, although it had this effect on many of his colleagues. Gao Zhen’s Christian faith is a very personal one, he does not attend gatherings and is not connected to a congregation.

Wilma Wagenaar is a Dutch artist concerned with the dialogue between church and art. For ten years she has organized retreats for painters in Benedictine Abbeys. She is a council member of the Stichting Platform Kerk en Kunst (Platform for Church and Art).



1. ART FOR CHANGE ARTIST RESIDENCY IN MANIPUR (INDIA) – “This June we attempted for the first time to take our residency model to Manipur. Manipur is one of the seven sister states, bordering Myanmar in the north eastern part of India. It was an ideal location for artists to meet, within its hilly landscapes covered with all kinds of flora and fauna and a culture deeply rooted to the land. While things look ideal on the face of it, it was a rewarding experience to delve into the diversity of lives, history and culture of the place through art.” Read more

2. CIVA TRAVELING EXHIBITION (USA) – Schedule your Traveling Exhibition rental for this fall or winter for your church, school, or gallery space. The CIVA staff highly recommends renting Revealed, a show featuring twenty-three works from Revealed: A Storybook Bible for Grown-Ups. This collection covers the entire story of Redemption - from the Fall in Genesis through the New Creation promised in Revelation. Curated by CIVA graphic designer Ned Bustard, the exhibition includes printmaking by many of CIVA's best-loved artists.

3. BOWDEN COLLECTIONS ROUAULT EXHIBITIONS (USA) – Book a show by Georges Rouault now to be part of the 150th anniversary of his birth. Georges Rouault--the famous French artist of faith whose work melded Fauvism and Expressionism--will be turning 150 in 2021!  Three exhibits are available in 2020 at the eve of this tribute through all of 2021.

a. Georges Rouault: A Steadfast Vision has been assembled to celebrate the 150th anniversary of his birth. Designed for churches with 17 original prints, this show introduces this critically important artist of faith from the 20th century.  CLICK HERE to see the show

b. Seeing Christ in the Darkness: Georges Rouault as Graphic Artist. This exhibition has intaglio prints from his famous Miserere Series, works from his Fleurs du Mals suite and several aquatints from The Passion, along with two original posters. Every Christian and all students should be familiar with this important artist of faith from the 20th century. This exhibition is perfect for colleges, seminaries, larger church galleries and museums. Seeing Christ in the Darkness ships FedEx or UPS to make shipping more affordable. CLICK HERE to view the show

c. The Miserere Series. Considered one of the most important printmaking feats of the 20th century-The Miserere's 58 intaglios. Rent the entire suite or make special arrangements to book a portion of the show. This exhibition is designed for a large gallery in a university or museum. It ships via art handlers. For more information on this exhibition contact Sandra Bowden ( and she will send a Dropbox invitation with info on all the images. Learn more by visiting the website or by e-mailing

4. RETREAT IN ITALY – Enjoy time in the hills of Tuscany this fall! Visit Santa Maria a Ferrano Retreat Center in Pelago, Italy (near Florence), from October 11-13, for Cultivating Inner Space and Connection to the World: An Interactive Seminar with Christine Gruwez. There is no charge for this retreat (suggested donation proportionate to participant's ability). Meals are all vegetarian. Accommodations are simple but lovely. The seminar will include presentations, dialogue, and practice sessions, as well as artistic exercises with Belgian artist Dora Seaux. All sessions will be conducted in English. For more information, please contact Rev. Thomas Muller at

For more exhibitions, lectures, conferences etc. inside and outside your country, click here

ArtWay is a website with resources for congregations and individuals concerned about linking art and faith.


Other recent meditations:
- September 2019: Friedl Dicker-Brandeis: Art in Terezín
- September 2019: Piero della Francesca: The Duke and Duchess
- August 2019: Helene Schjerfbeck: Self-Portrait Black Background
- August 2019: Johannes Wickert: Beggars

For more Visual Meditations, see under Artists