The Anna Maria Jagdfeld Collection of Chinese Contemporary Art
As China emerged from the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, the intellectual and artistic conformity of the communist system, the country witnessed a profound and seismic transformation of its cultural scene. The subsequent decades heralded a new era of creativity that penetrated every aspect of art and culture. Relieved of the restrictions of a state-controlled cultural production system, young art academy students across the nation were suddenly exposed to an extraordinary range of tools, techniques, and philosophies that they would digest and incorporate into their own visions and inspirations. This transformation of the cultural field would manifest itself for years to come, opening up traditional fields of art-making to new subjects, visions, and an almost unprecedented privileging of the artist's subjectivity over all else.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Chinese artists broke with their academic training and began developing new artistic languages for a nation in transition, seeking to overturn inherited aesthetic paradigms for ones that better-suited a post-Mao, rapidly modernizing nation. These artists were inspired by a new influx of information and materials about contemporary Western art practices, but also by their own experience of China's 20th century. The confluence of these circumstances -- the rigor of the training received in art academies, the turmoil and upheavals of, first, the Cultural Revolution and, second, the breakneck pace of modernization, globalization, and economic growth -- laid the groundwork for one of the most extraordinary breaks with aesthetic tradition in recent memory.
While prescient curators and gallerists, like Li Xianting, Gao Minglu, Manfred Schoeni and Johnson Chang, were early champions of this art, it was not always immediately appreciated or understood within China. Foreign diplomats, journalists and intrepid collectors were often among the first to intuit that these unusual, experimental works - at turns understated, fearless, humorous, and thoroughly unprecedented - represented not only a complete re-definition of Chinese contemporary culture, but new terrain in contemporary art itself, suggesting innovative approaches to representation, subjectivity, and aesthetics. As such, the field of Chinese contemporary art in its nascent stage was defined early on as much by its devoted collectors as it was by the art itself. The Anna Maria Jagdfeld Collection of Chinese Contemporary Art is one such historic collection, extensive and wide-ranging, one that identified a movement before it completely recognized itself. The visionary force behind a Germany-based luxury conglomerate, Mrs. Jagdfeld has brought an open, intrepid, and aesthetically comprehensive approach to all aspects of her life and work, one enlivened by startling and often provocative juxtapositions, and a long-cultivated eye for originality, beauty, and quality.
Christie's is pleased to present a selection of highlights from the Jagdfeld collection across our Evening and both Day sales, including exceptional, iconic and historic works from artists as diverse as Zhang Xiaogang, Zeng Fanzhi, Wang Yidong and Ai Xuan, representing the full spectrum of new art from China that is so well known today.
In the rare and historic Yang Shaobin featured here from the Anna Maria Jagdfeld Collection, Yang has produced a work that bridges and anticipates the then-developing Political Pop and Cynical Realist trends in Chinese art. We see the artist directly engaging with the immediate past, the imagery of China's high communist period, while simultaneously undermining its idealism with the artist's distinct conceptual and aesthetic framework, his subversive approach to imagery and technique.
The painting was completed in 1993 while Yang was still living in Beijing's Yuan Ming Yuan (Old Summer Palace) artist colony in the far northeastern outskirts of the city. This period was another formative milestone for Chinese contemporary art. Building off of the experimentations and breakthroughs of their predecessors in the Stars Group, the '85 "Culture Fever" groups, and others, these artists were able to make the radical leap into unknown territory, living as fully independent artists. Home at different times to such notable figures as Yue Minjun, Fang Lijun, and Liu Wei, it was during this period that developed the styles and voices that would ultimately define Chinese contemporary art.
Zhen Bao Dao Heroes (Lot 2037) refers to a series of conflicts which took place in 1969 between the People's Republic of China and the USSR, the culmination of decades-long border disputes. Over the course of several months, both sides experienced triumphs, humiliations, and significant casualties, most notably with the Soviets losing a then-secret tank, which was ultimately recovered by the People's Liberation Army and proudly ensconced in the Chinese Military Museum. In Yang's rendering of the events, he offers a classically propagandistic composition, replete with a perfect blue sky, its impossibly clear and beatific nature contrasting intentionally with the chaos and comedy below. The bright palette and heroic central figure immediately calls to mind the propaganda posters and paintings of the Cultural Revolution that would have promoted the ideals of the state and its campaigns. Indeed, the central figure in particular is reminiscent of "Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy", one of the iconic "eight model plays" produced under Jiang Qing's leadership during the Cultural Revolution. He is a substantial and stoic figure, eyes clear and gaze fixed as he gestures to the horizon. Parachutes fall leisurely from the sky, conspicuously absent of their paratroopers, while soldiers trudge through the turquoise water, with only their comically vulnerable features and guns' bayonets visible. A castle and ferris wheel are visible in the distance, anachronistic details that the viewer immediately recognizes from the world of Disney.
Over the course of his now three-decade career, Yang has made violence a central theme in his works - violence as man's true nature, the violence of modernization, the militarization of contemporary life. He has stated, "I've always been sensitive to violence, I can smell blood in the air when I watch people fight. The games I played as a child were violent. I often fought, and the injuries caused by that kind of violence, in my experience, are all too vivid. Reality is cruel, and people become insecure living amidst all pressures of life; violence is the most injurious act" (Yang Shaobin, Living Weekly, November 1999).