• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 12515

    Asian 20th Century & Contemporary Art (Evening Sale)

    28 May 2016, Convention Hall

  • Lot 71

    SONG YONGHONG (Chinese, B. 1966)

    Riding in a Bus

    Price Realised  

    Estimate

    SONG YONGHONG (Chinese, B. 1966)
    Riding in a Bus
    signed 'Song Hong' in Pinyin; dated '1991.6' (lower right)
    oil on canvas
    100 x 100 cm. (39 3/8 x 39 3/8 in.)
    Painted in 1991

    15% of the hammer price of this lot will be donated to Moonchu Foundation


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    Song Yonghong was born in 1966 in Hebei Province. His older brother was one of the youngest participants in the '85 New Wave movement, which was an important influence on Song Yonghong during his formative years. The young artist made his name for himself when he and his brother collaborated on a performance piece entitled Experiencing a Scene (Fig. 1). This served as a point of departure for the Song’s later works which often depicted a quotidian scene combined with elements of fantasy, absurdity, and parody as a means to respond to the convoluted value system in post-1989 contemporary Chinese society. His detached and humorous style serve as a means of catharsis. Along with fellow artists Liu Wei and Fang Lijun, he is one of the most iconic representatives from the Cynical Realism movement.

    Song Yonghong graduated from the Zhejiang Fine Art Academy (now China Academy of Art) with a major in print-making. For his graduation project in 1988, he produced a series of etchings entitled Campus Life, which utilizes a tranquil visual language in order to conversely materialise an atmosphere of tension. He eliminates all the colours in the scene, leaving only razor-sharp outlines to compose the image like the crisp ringing of a bell that echoes through the endless silence of the night. Oil paint became Song’s primary medium only after he graduated. His concise but powerful use of line is evidence of a continuation of the style in which he worked during his print-making era. The solemn and eerie atmosphere in his works is influenced by the Surrealist masterpieces of Giorgio de Chirico (Fig. 2) and Rene Magritte.

    Between 1991 and 1992, Song Yonghong created a series of paintings using the colour brown as the predominant hue on each canvas - Riding in a Bus (Lot 71) is a notable piece from this body of work. The square format strengthens the effect of linear perspective inside the bus. The unknown view in front of the windshield adds a sense of mystery to the composition. The figures appear mannequin-like in their stiff modelling and monochrome palette, which serves to completely eliminate the softness of their bodies, making them appear almost like relief sculpture. While other works from the same series incorporate lascivious imagery to deal with the subject matter of sexuality, this particular work focuses on alienation. There is no communication between each figure, as their gazes never meet. It is a metaphor for the mental distance city dwellers hold between one another. A remarkable feature of this painting is the way in which the male figure sitting in the centre of the bus meets the gaze of the viewers, subconsciously pulling them into a silent standoff.

    Public transportation serves as the setting for Song Yonghong's works more than once - train cars have also been featured in his paintings from this period. The most engrossing aspect of these works is that the picture is often saturated with surrealistic sexual fantasies, including gratuitous sexual behaviour, indecent exposure, and voyeurism. These supposedly private behaviours are placed in the context of the public sphere to be shared by strangers. As a result, the boundary between what is public and what is private is irrevocably blurred.

    The main character of Riding in a Bus is the woman wearing a blazer who carries a handbag. She clutches the handrail tightly as she turns her gaze upward to the blank ceiling of the bus. Combined with her slack-jawed expression, she appears to be either deep in thought or despair. She cannot read on the bus to pass the time, nor can she communicate with the strangers around her for fear of invading their privacy (Fig. 3). This woman is a private individual who can get on and off the bus as she wishes. While we can surmise that she has considerable autonomy in her life, it is worth noting that public transportation is still solely operated by the state in China. Other than providing service to the public, conceptually, it simultaneously enables and restricts the movement of people.

    Using public transport as a metaphor, China in the 1990s is like a bus on which every single citizen is a passenger travelling on Deng Xiaoping’s prescribed route of economic reform. They are arriving at a destination that is predetermined by the State. As it is mandatory to follow the bus schedule, the only choice each passenger is afforded is whether or not the journey is pleasant. The relationship between passengers and public transport seems to be perpetual, and these myriad encounters and departures are a fact of life.

    Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner


    Pre-Lot Text

    THE BREAKING DAWN: EARLY CHINESE CONTEMPORARY ART - THE JOHNSON CHANG COLLECTION


    Literature

    Asian Art Archive, China's New Art, Post-1989, Hong Kong, 2001 (illustrated, p. 172).
    Lu Peng, A History of Art in Twentieth-Century China (Revised Edition), Peking UniversityPress, Beijing, China, 2009 (illustrated, p. 802).
    Lu Peng, Zhu Zhu, Kao Chienhui (ed.), Thirty Years of Adventures: Art and Artists Post 1979, Timezone 8 Limited , Beijing, China, 2010 (illustrated, p. 283).
    National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Post-Martial Law vs Post-’89: The Contemporary Art in Taiwan and China, Taichung, Taiwan,
    2006 (illustrated, p. 183).
    Guangdong Museum of Art, Square of Desire: Song Yonghong, Guangzhou, China, 2008 (illustrated, p. 74).
    Lu Peng, A History of Art in Twentieth-Century China (Revised Edition), Peking University Press, Beijing, China, 2009 (illustrated,
    p. 802).
    Lu Peng, Zhu Zhu, Kao Chienhui (ed.), Thirty Years of Adventures: Art and Artists Post 1979, Timezone 8 Limited , Beijing, China, 2010 (illustrated, p. 283).


    Exhibited

    Hong Kong, Hong Kong Arts Centre; & Hong Kong City Hall, China's New Art, Post-1989, 30 January-28 February 1993.
    Sydney, Australia, Museum of Contemporary Art, Mao Goes Pop, 2 June-15 August 1993.
    Melbourne, Australia, Melbourne Arts Festival, China's New Art, Post-1989, Summer 1993.
    Vancouver, Canada, Vancouver Art Gallery, China's New Art, Post-1989, 12 April-28 May 1995.
    Eugene, USA, University of Oregon Art Museum, China's New Art, Post-1989, 17 December 1995-28 February 1996.
    Fort Wayne, USA, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, China's New Art, Post-1989, 23 March-11 May 1996.
    Salina, USA, Salina Arts Centre, China's New Art, Post-1989, 14 March-11 May 1997.
    Chicago, USA, Chicago Cultural Centre, China's New Art, Post-1989, 7 June-8 August 1997.
    San Jose, USA, San Jose Museum of Art, China's New Art, Post-1989, 2 September-2 November 1997.
    Prague, Czech Republic, Galerie Rudolfinum, Faces and Bodies of the Middle Kingdom: Chinese Art of the 90's, 1997.
    Taichung, Taiwan, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Post-Martial Law vs Post-’89: The Contemporary Art in Taiwan and China, 2006.