Hong Kong – Christie’s is proud to announce the Spring Evening and Day sales of Chinese 20th Century Art, which will be held on 29 May (Evening Sale) and 30 May (Day Sale) at the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre. Together with the Asian contemporary art sales, over 480 highly sought-after pieces will be offered with a combined pre-sale estimate of HK$260 million (US$30 million).
The 20th century was one of revolution and reform in Chinese art -- it marked a turning point between the new and the old. Chinese artists in the 20th century worked to bridge the strengths of artistic traditions in the East with those of the West, using Western oil-based mediums and modern techniques to create images infused with the aesthetics and ethos of traditional Chinese ink paintings but in radical new forms. Over the course of the century, many masters were born and classics created, and today the Chinese 20th century art category stands as a driving force behind the strong rebound of the auction market in Asia.
The Master: Sanyu
Sanyu’s ouevre is perhaps the finest example of the exploratory process of Chinese artists to unite Eastern and Western aesthetic ideals, as well as classical traditions and modern views, his exemplary works setting the benchmark in refining and advancing the spirit of Chinese traditions in modern forms. In Vase of Lilies with Red Ground, Sanyu's minimalist treatment of the vase emphasizes its graceful, transparent form, while the crimson and milky white colours saturating the canvas infuse the work with a classic Oriental feel. The interlocking leaves and branches are comparable to the floral patterns found in Matisse’s work, but the still life subject and setting of this work is clearly drawn from the cultural traditions of the Chinese literati paintings and their aesthetics.
Wu Guanzhong and Ju Ming:
Exploring Space & REDEFINING Form
Wu Guanzhong’s landscape paintings make use of the quintessential artistic elements of dots, lines, planes and pure colours to unite the poetic vision of time-honored Chinese ink painting with European oil painting's tradition of direct observation, often resulting in ground-breaking spatial arrangements. In Amidst the Daba Mountains, Wu employs the Chinese landscape tradition of multiple perspectives. The brown rocky mountains appear in an intimate, close-up view, highlighted simply with a splash of grayish white behind the summit, giving the impression of an infinite expanse of mountains beyond the horizon. The visual focus is directed by the layered variation of hues, creating a lively rhythm that encapsulates what Wu described as the beauty of “crowdedness and irregularity," a unique approach to formal expression that revolutionized the traditional “landscapes” genre, transforming it into an aesthetic and spiritual experience.
Standing at over two metres tall, Ju Ming’s 1990 Advancing Step Barricade Moving Punch is from his celebrated Taichi Series. The clean lines of the work convey a sense of movement, underscoring Ju Ming’s masterful achievement of advancing the expressiveness of sculptural forms and spatial abstraction. The hard metal of the bronze is paradoxically imbued with the lightness and receptivity of the tai-chi pose. Moreover, the monumental forms of the figure suggest the spatial aesthetics of traditional Chinese landscape painting, further giving the work an eternal and transcendent character and highlighting Ju’s masterful redefinition of the sculptural form.
Chu Teh-chun and Chao Chun-hsiang:
Breaking New Artistic Ground
Cultural exchanges in the early 20th Century set the stage for the decades of innovation and experimentation that was to come. The first “Work-Study in France” program was initiated in 1912, encouraging and funding elites to study abroad. Artists who benefited from this program included important figures such Lin Fengmian and Wu Dayu, who would subsequently return to and teach in China, inaugurating the Department of Painting at what is now the Hangzhou National Academy of Art and which, for the first time, dropped the division between Western and Traditional paintings, making it a requisite for students to become proficient in both. Students of this first generation of foreign-trained artists include Zao Wou-ki, Chu Teh-chun, Chao Chun-hsiang and Shiy De-jinn, each of whom embraced Chinese traditions while exploring fresh perspectives in their artwork.
In 1956, Chu Teh-chun began his Composition series: abstract works that recreated in oil the dots, lines, planes, and colour elements of Chinese landscape paintings. The overlaying coats of rectangular planes of colour, interwoven with lines that iterate the strokes in Chinese calligraphy, offered a vigorous yet refreshing visual experience. Works from this period exude the spirit of Chinese ink paintings, though in a more abstract and uninhibited Western aesthetic language.
Chinese literati art emphasises the expression of emotions and concepts, whereas Western art often stresses symbolism and colour; the synthesis of the two brought forth brand new possibilities in composition and graphic structures. Chao Chun-hsiang’s Spring blends fluorescent-colour planes characteristic of Expressionism with the metaphysical ideals of Chinese ink paintings, resulting in a feast for the eyes where the shockingly bright backdrop colours set off the subtle play of shadows in the ink washes.
Zao Wou-Ki and the Modern Renaissance of Chinese Art
In the great historical sweep of Chinese modern art and its ongoing development, Zao Wou-ki plays a critical role, linking its past and future, inheriting, extending, and renewing its traditions. Finding roots in traditional Song and Yuan Dynasty landscape paintings, Zao reinterprets their visual spirit while incorporating Western artistic flair in his handling of colour, light and shadow. His new artistic vision propelled the tradition of Chinese landscape and ink painting into a modern medium. Along with other artistic innovators from Lin Fengmian’s generation, Zao’s work marks nothing less than a complete renaissance of Chinese art.
Christie’s is proud to present a series of Zao masterpieces covering over half a century of his career. Included this season are early works from his Still-Life and Landscapes series of the early 1950’s, the Oracle-Bone Period and Abstract Landscapes series from the mid-1950’s, the Ink-Painting Style Translucent Oils from the 1970’s, and the more recent Exploring the Depth of Colours series from 1980-2000. Featuring three to four pieces from each stylistic period, these works provide a comprehensive picture of Zao’s evolving style over the enormous breadth of his career and celebrate the great Chinese master’s indelible mark on art history.
The tradition & Transformation of Chinese Realism
At the dawn of 20th century, the seeds of Western realism were sowed in Chinese art by first generation artists who returned from their training overseas, including the likes of Xu Beihong, Li Tiefu and Yan Wenliang. As a mainstay of Chinese art academy training, realism took root in China and blossomed gradually into a school of realist oil painting with Chinese spiritual ideals. From the 1940’s through the 1970’s, oil painting in particular became a tool of political campaigns, with artistic themes restricted and free expression curbed. By the end of the 1970’s, the opening and reform of China saw rapid economic growth as well as the liberation of artistic thinking, bringing opportunities to develop Chinese realism anew. The 1980’s in particular saw a reinvestment in realism as the style in which to convey the spirit and sensibilities of the nation. Chen Yifei, in particular, was among the leading figures of China’s new realism, focusing on the serene scenery of the Jiangnan waterside villages of his hometown and on personae of Western classical music, applying a delicate technique of frosting with thick layers of colouring on canvas to depict the poetic atmosphere and elegance of the individual, giving rise to a ‘romantic-realist’ style of Chen’s very own. In contrast, proponents of ‘native realism’ like Luo Zhongli and Chen Danqing turned away from the ideological-laden styles of the past, focusing instead on capturing the lives of China’s peasants, farmers, and ethnic minority cultures. Wang Yidong looked for inspiration in traditional rural villages, developing a highly individual style that strikingly conveyed the reserved notions of beauty and elegance in China. Ai Xuan’s work looked to the unique ambience of the Tibetan plateaus and the Tibetan people, capturing in his portraits of women and children a feeling of mystery and spirituality, suggesting an untainted utopian vision outside of the vagaries of history and ideology. Brimming with nostalgia and nationalistic spirit, Chinese realist oils have matured greatly over recent decades, and today continue to pluck the viewers' heart strings.
Beginning 11 May 2010, log on to www.christies.com/hongkong to view a special online video seminar on ASIAN CONTEMPORARY ART and CHINESE 20TH CENTURY ART, presented by our specialists in the field. The site will also include artist biographies, related essays and much more.
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