As one of the leading protagonists of Chinese contemporary art, Wang Guangyi rapidly established himself both within China and internationally not only as an artist but as a critic and public intellectual advocating a radical re-evaluation of Chinese contemporary art and culture. For Wang, notions of beauty are built on calculated manipulations of form, color, composition, and perspective, and the highest aim of art would be to reveal the apparatus of this illusion. This impulse reached its full maturity with the artist's breakthrough Great Criticism series, paintings fusing the imagery of mass produced Chinese propaganda with well-known Western commercial logos.
The Great Criticism works featured here, Rolex (Lot 1007), Cartier (Lot 1006), and Buick (Lot 1066), capture the fury and power Wang's inspiration and aesthetic philosophy. "Rolex" and Cartier, both painted in 1995, are among the earliest examples from the series. Wang employs the classic figures of revolutionary imagery, building a mass of heroic figures in lockstep, marching towards the future. Wang's figures and logos are almost deliberately naive, as if drawn from a populist revolutionary impulse; they bear books, ink pens, and brushes, wielding the revolutionary tools of artists and scholars. Their coordinated dynamism, implies a larger almost sui generic collective, joining forces, and seducing the viewer into joining them as well.
In Buick from 1999, a highlight from An Important Swiss Collection of Chinese Avant-Garde Art, we can see how these dominant motifs have become sharpened for maximum visual impact. The proportions of the canvas have widened slightly to give the figures more room for dynamic action. Instead of marching towards the viewer in a somewhat celebratory mode, the two figures are united in their assault on an unnamed enemy, though the capitalist enemy is implied by Wang's placement of the "Buick" logo. In these early works, Wang has stated that the logos he selected were not necessarily personally meaningful to him, so much as they were symbols of a foreign ideology encroaching on Chinese life. In both Buick and Cartier he adds a resounding "NO", a possible reference to the controversial polemical text from the same time period, "China Can Say No", which argued that China's embrace of Western values had gone too far.
Wang juxtaposes these revolutionary types against the blunt commercialism of the logos. By finding a harmonious and powerful fusion of these two ideologies and visual systems, Wang exposes not only the irony of this union but also the ways in which these supposedly antithetical systems are nonetheless visually complementary. As a result, he reveals the evacuation of moral philosophy and idealism in the contemporary worldview's of both East and West, revealing also perhaps his own nostalgia for a time of revolutionary political action.