(b. 1957)
Great Criticism - Disney
oil on canvas
200 x 200 cm. (78 3/4 x 78 3/4 in.)
Painted in 2005
Private Collection, Asia

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Lot Essay

As one of the leading members of China's avant-garde art movement, Wang Guangyi built his reputation on his coolly analytical and deconstructive-informed style, designed to critically reveal the stifling visual and creative culture that he grew up in. While his works have obvious corollaries with Western Pop art, they emerge from Wang's virulent critique of the Chinese communist legacy and the country's seemingly heedless embrace of capitalist consumption.

The dominant motifs of Wang's work are culled from the height of Chinese political propaganda, typically featuring some combination of the three ideal revolutionary types: workers, peasants and soldiers. Here a female worker, a male soldier and a farmer form a powerful pyramid, striding confidently forward carrying semi-automatic rifles in Great Criticism- Disney (Lot 514). Their gazes are fixed optimistically on the horizon, as if ready to confront any challenge. Typical of the Great Criticism series, two repeating, randomly selected numbers can be found stamped across the composition. During the Cultural Revolution (1966 - 1976), two licenses were required for the production of any image for public consumption: one to produce the image, and another to distribute it. These numbers then reference the extreme restrictions on creative production during Wang's formative years. The logos from Western consumer culture initially had little concrete meaning for Wang per se. He did not necessarily have any specific associations with the Walt Disney brand or any other. Rather, the logos were appropriated in order to highlight the artist's complex response towards China's extraordinary historical changes. The heroic spirit of the revolution is confronted with the crass branding of western commercialism. Wang has stated, "In my view, the central point I want to express in the Great Criticism series is the ideological antagonism that exists between western culture and socialist ideology. The significance of this antagonism has more to do with issues in cultural studies than simply art in and of itself" (Wang Guangyi quoted in Wang Guangyi, Timezone 8, Hong Kong, 2002, p. 28). Wang's appropriation of these two visual styles represents his ironic critique on the failure of the communist project and the restrictive cultural environment it produced, while also revealing his own nostalgia for a time of idealism and activism.

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