(B. 1957)
Great Criticism - Hermes
oil on canvas
120 x 149.5 cm. (47 1/4 x 58 7/8 in.)
Painted in 2004
Private Collection, Asia

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Eric Chang
Eric Chang

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Lot Essay

Wang Guangyi is one of the central figures of the Political Pop movement. Best known for his Great Criticism Series, Wang creates links between the propaganda aesthetics of the Cultural Revolution and striking imagery of American Pop, which in turn was inspired by the new levels of commercialism and consumerism penetrating popular culture in the U.S. By doing so, he holds a mirror up to China's present. With a critical attitude towards his home country, he pokes fun at China's modernization efforts and international exchange, viewing both as nothing but commercial greed.

With such works as 2004's Great Criticism: Hermes (Lot 1032), Wang scrutinizes the dominance of icon-worship of Western brand products. By juxtaposing one of the world's most recognizable brand names and logos with famous scenes from propaganda posters of the Cultural Revolution, he creates an alliance between the authorities of power which show no sympathy toward China's past and present state. While the vigorous gestures of monumental proletarian images from the Mao era have already revealed themselves as a mendaciously colorful facade of an inhumane machinery, Wang attributes the same hypocrisy to Western consumerism. Wang's works bear an important message and reflect the artist's complex socio-political exploration of the subject matter: The heroes of the revolution, namely soldiers, workers and peasants seem to be manning the front lines of ideology. On a blood-red background and dressed in the traditional wardrobe of the Communist party, a mass of dedicated and enthusiastic Mao supporters surge forward. With sharp black outlines and shadows, hardly distinguishable, the cartoon-like characters are a dynamic mass composed of yellowish color fields, their facial features tentatively implied by black silhouettes. The red background corresponds with the Little Red Book of the Cultural Revolution, combined with the stars, collars and pins to create a symbolism that evokes the idea of the omnipresence of Communism.

Significantly, the idealistic figures are contrasted with not only the crass consumerist logo but also with the word "NO" emerging as if a thought-bubble from the figures. While the meaning of the logo or the brand itself is secondary, its role as an ambassador of an opposing system is what creates this visual and ideological contrast, and it becomes unclear if the figures are rebelling or rejoicing. This way, Wang simultaneously critiques the legacy of communism in China, while also producing a critique of the radical turn towards consumerism evident in the country in the last two decades and the heedless abandonment of ideals in exchange for products.

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