Christie's is proud to present a selection of highlights from the Vision Collection of Asian Contemporary Art. Brought together by two generations of a European family already with a long history of collecting Western masters, the family undertook the strategic decision to focus exclusively on the emerging art of Asia. Having spent much of the 1990s living in the region, they gained a deep appreciation of Asia's exceptionally rich cultural heritage, the impact modernization and growth was having on younger generations, as we as the expectation that the economies of Asia would eventually dominate the 21st Century. As a result, exploring the emerging art of the region seemed an intuitive and obvious next step. They undertook a rigorous study of current art of the region, as academic as it was highlighted by personal touches. They employed what they viewed as classical criteria - judging artistic ideas by their use of materials, technique, form and subject to communicate content and emotion. At the same time, they appreciated the ways in which innovative media technologies would alter our traditional notions of aesthetic value. Finally, they also sought out personal relationships with every artist they were interested in, enhancing the pleasure of collecting, and affording them further insights into each artist's unique practice and methods.
Over the course of two decades, the family had gathered a collection including representative works from central figures of Chinese, Indian, Filipino and Indonesian contemporary art. The seven works featured here highlight the their appreciation for the diversity of the field - the recurring interest in subjectivity, fantasy, symbolic expression, and the ways in which all of these would be reordered by the dialogue between traditional art forms, social change, the disjuncture between Eastern and Western aesthetics, and the rapid evolution of practice and form across generations. The works of Wei Dong (Lot 1429), for example, are notable for his meticulous use of traditional dry ink brush techniques, populated by decadent, derelict and provocative behavior. With Players in the Landscape, Wei offers the unorthodox fusion of a Chinese landscape with opera performers, who insinuate themselves into the landscape in sexualized and compromising positions, the artist's treatment of the corrupted flesh synonymous with his landscape technique, suggesting that this is not merely an irreverent and provocative use of imagery, but a clever indictment of the corrupting and oppressive influence of "tradition" in Chinese art.
The play of the past in the present is apparent in the works of Chen Ke as well, as is the generational divide between the two artists. Born in 1978, the figure of Chinese traditional art also haunts her canvases, in this case with the mysterious, painterly background of her canvas (Lot 1428), reminiscent of the powerful and expressionistic landscape forms found in Fan Kuan's iconic Song Dynasty masterwork, "Travelers by Streams and Mountain". But Chen's position is less one of iconoclasm than of coy curiosity. Into the canvas she inserts what we might consider the child-like persona of the artist, seated and gazing inquisitively into the abstract terrain, accompanied by a mysterious and fantastical creature, who appears to be lacking any facial figures, but who nonetheless has turned his back on the scene. With images such as these, whimsical and yet forlorn personal parables, Chen has quickly established herself as one of the more sensitive and original of China's latest young generation of painters.
This symbolic and subjective investigation into one's relationship to the larger environment can be seen throughout a variety of media. The early performance photography of Wang Jin fully embody the anarchic assertion of the subjective self that ran throughout the historic works of Chinese performance artist. In Fighting the Flood -- Red Flag Canal (Lot 1423), Wang enacts a mysterious yet symbolic ritual, releasing 50 kilos of red pigment into a communist-era canal project. The color red of course has multiple meanings across Chinese culture - embodying happiness, marriage, and the revolution - Wang uses this color to suggest the ways in which something evoking feelings of good fortune might also literally become a pervasive agent of pollution.
A feeling of helplessness would become a recurring theme in Chinese art, especially as the ramifications of rapid modernization became more apparent. In his On the Wall series (Lot 1426), Weng Fen photographs his daughter in her school uniform, literally sitting on a city wall on the outskirts of one of China's new mega-cities. Straddling the wall, she is literally on the periphery of this vision of modernity, her solitary silhouette symbolic of the ennui of the artist and his feelings of displacement.
Modernization is a key theme for China's younger artists as well, many of whom use the image of the city to criticize an environment of moral decay. Such is the case with Tu Hongtao, whose Maybe Tokyo or Chengdu (Lot 1425) suggests the interchangeability of these monolithic Asian cities and their associated state of moral and physical decay. Here his bird's eye view of the urban landscape shows it as a hostile, disordered place in a state of semi-destruction. Surrounded by an ominous milky miasma, the foregrounded figure in protective anti-radioactive suit, assessing the vision before him, suggests that the city is no longer fit for human inhabitants. Indeed, in Tu's caustic hands, the survivors of an environmental disaster are not cockroaches, but instead prostitutes.
The fragmenting of identity and subjective experience under late modernity is explored in the works of Beijing-based painter Li Jikai as well. His works are full of the images of dreams and daydreams, lonely, sentimental, and obsessive, Li's practice is notable not for the penetrating psychological observations typical of the preceding generation of Chinese painters, but instead for the morbid fascination with the self typical of his own era. In the monumental canvas featured here (Lot 1427), Li offers the ambiguous image of a large mushroom growing out of what appears to be a trash heap, with the artist's cartoonish persona perched atop the over-size yellow cap of the mushroom, seeming to cover his nose from the odor. As such, Li presents a playful and knowing metaphor for the place of the artist in contemporary society - his self-conscious elitism and vanity, resting comfortably on the fantastic forms that have quite literally emerged from the stench and detritus of life.
Finally, the transformation of subjective experience and the nature of representation itself can be found in the works of TV Santhosh from the Vision Collection as well (Lot 1424). TV Santhosh is one of the leading contemporary Indian artists working today, who rose to prominence in the late 1990s. Rife with political commentary, his paintings reflect the complexity of current and historic global crises, wars, terrorism, and violence which resonate on both the global and local level. Santhosh's immediately recognizable style achieves a photorealistic appearance that touches on his interest in media imagery and also places the viewer in a position of participant-observer, forced to bear witness to often unsettling moments of conflict. The artists untiring search for an understanding of the state of world politics, war and media is expressed most effectively by this painting. In his unique, signature style, Santhosh creates a powerful image of the horrors of war. Choosing photographic imagery as his base, he solarizes the images creating works which conjure the style of an x-ray or film negative. As certain elements get deleted and become unrecognizable, they reveal an event's hidden implications. In the process, the elements of 'local' lose their specificity, attaining instead a universal significance. As such, Santhosh takes his experience of urban life and global mass media forms in an altogether different direction from his contemporaries in China. Where in China, young artists seem to be portraying the increased sublimation of contemporary life into their subjective expressions; here Santhosh seeks to shock us out of our vanity and complacency, to insist that we not become inured to the grace and the terror inherent to our daily lives. In this range of artistic experimentations, united by the prescient insight of the collectors, a profound world of artistic expression is revealed for the viewer, one that in its fragmentations reveals the fragmentation of contemporary life and experience, united by its deep engagement with history, subjective expression, and the unpredictable nature of our era.