An eminent pioneer in Chinese Contemporary art, Gu Wenda remains unrivalled in his time. He began working with Chinese calligraphy during the '85 New Wave, transforming calligraphy into huge expressionist paintings by first breaking apart, then reassembling Chinese words. On one level, calligraphy has an abstract form and expressive structure; on a second and deeper level, the Chinese language is the bearer of Chinese culture itself. Gu combines the two and creates his very own, unique artistic language. By keeping the expressive strength of calligraphy and maintaining the beauty of ink, he touches upon the very core of traditional Chinese ink painting. Further, he goes back to the tradition of the ideogram, which had been forgotten for almost fifty years.
Gu's large-scale calligraphy works paintings incorporate landscape and hulk-sized calligraphy (Fengshui, Lot 949), painted in 2003 and Form No.A-6 Cloud-Water Flying Pseudo, (Lot 947), displaying not only his highly distinctive style, but also very personal biographical details, which explain why Gu in 1986 became the leading exponent of radical Asian character painting in mainland China: As a child, Gu was hired to create "big character" propaganda posters for Mao's Red Guard. At his first solo exhibit in China in 1986, Gu displayed a series of his trademark huge ink paintings but with deliberate, unintelligible mis-writing, which was seen by some critics as a rebellious gesture against the manipulative use of language during the Maoist era. Suspecting political sabotage, and frustrated by their inability to understand Gu's imaginary writing, the Chinese propaganda department closed his show before it opened.
Gu's work is also timely in its ambitious attempt to address in artistic terms the issue of globalism that dominates discussions of contemporary politics, societies and cultures The scope of his vision is remarkable. By going back to time-honered traditional methods, he collapses the ancient into the future. At the same time, his compositions reveal his complex message in unexpected forms. Words, languages and calligraphy are just some of the components of his works that catalyze discussion and broaden awareness among viewers.
Since his move to New York in the late 1980s, Gu has been working on more conceptual art and his works have gone far beyond ink painting. In his grand-scale installation projects called 'United Nations' he uses human hair to draw words in different languages on large hanging scrolls. On a much smaller scale, his Pseudo Characters Series (Lot 948) (2001) and Met-Morphosis (Lot 946) (2005) reflect his unique approach of incorporating materials taken from the human body into his expressive works.
The misunderstandings and the limits of knowledge based on language on the one hand, and the need for exchange and understanding of different countries and cultures on the other hand, have formed the touchstone of Gu's work.