On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Property from the Collection of Howard and Patricia Farber

(B. 1963)
Series 1, No. 5
oil on linen
81.3 x 100.3 cm. (32 x 39 1/2 in.)
Painted in 1990-1991
Galerie Serieuze Zaken, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Christie's New York, 16 November 2006, Lot 343
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Haus der Kulturen der Welt, China Avant-Garde, Berlin, Germany, 1993 (illustrated, p. 116).
Oxford University Press (Hong Kong) Ltd., China Avant-Garde: Counter-Currents in Art and Culture, Hong Kong, China, 1994 (illustrated, unpaged).
Smith, Karen. Scalo, Nine Lives: The Birth of an Avant-Garde Art in New China, Zurich, Switzerland, 2006. (illustrated, p. 144).
Hebei Education Press, Chinese Artists of Today, Fang Lijun, Hebei, China, 2006 (illustrated, p. 89).
Sichuan Fine Arts Publishing House, Collected Edition of Chinese Oil Painter Volume of Fang Lijun, Sichuan, China, 2006 (illustrated, p. 41).
China Avant-Garde, (travelling exhibition),Rotterdam, The Netherlands, Kunsthal Rotterdam Oxford, UK, Museum of Modern Art Odense, Denmark, Kunsthallen Brandts Klaedefabrik, May 1993- February 1994.
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Lot Essay

Emerging from the first wave of China's post-Mao era in the 1990s, Fang's first public showing was at the China/Avant Garde exhibition in February 1989. What drew him early acclaim for his drawings at the time, was his distinctive vision that is removed of appropriation of inherited imagery of Socialist aesthetics or Western Modernism, he delivered instead an introspective landscape of bewildered or helpless figures on an indistinct grounds. Belonging to what is considered by art critic Li Xianting as the Third Generation of post-Cultural Revolution artists, Fang enjoyed unprecedented heady sense of freedom in the shifting socio-political environment of China in the late 1980s. While some have read the images as anti-state or dissident, Fang's early works have been fundamentally about the human condition and reflections of his personal experiences which many saw as definitive of the generation.

In Series 1, No. 5(Lot 1027), Fang describes two shaved-headed men, one gazing quizzically at the other who looks away in the distance with vague apprehension, placed before a backdrop of clear sky. The somber mood of the monochromatic palette that first appeared in his pencil drawings and gouache paintings continues into this image. In an absence of the full spectrum of colours, the image speaks of an indistinct moment in history, but the contemporary urban clothing on the men interpolates the viewer's perception of time and space. As with his use of water in the Swimming works, and the blue skies in his later series, the backdrop here signifies a time-varying factor as well as a metaphor for an ironic, indeterminate utopian feeling of hope.

After the Tiananmen Incident of 1989, a feeling of nihilism and of the failure f idealism overtook Fang's generation, which developed rapidly into a sense of ennui and helplessness. Looking back at this time Fang stated, "The situation was especially oppressive and gloomy. But under such a situation, the feelings inside were especially transparent and clear, for it had already reached the end and there is nothing to fear." Fang Lijun continued to turn towards his shaved headed self as the subject - one that is devoid of constraints and opposition by the external world; revealing his desire for liberated artistic expression and his choice of oneself as the ideal subject. A shaved head might signify social non-conformity, the suppression of identity (as in the military or in prison), or spiritual liberation (as with Buddhist monks); as such, Fang's adoption of the bald head therefore marked his figures as hooligans, social outcasts whose blase expressions often cannot be differentiated from laughter, yawns, and screams.

Series 1, No. 5 perfectly captures the nihilism felt by his generation, and is a significant representation in the development of the Cynical Realist style. Decidedly ambiguous, this earlier work is hardly an absolute, lucid "cynical" dramatization of the dystopian, utopian and perhaps apocalyptic vision found in Fang's later works characterized by absurdly garish primary colours and firm contours. Yet it speaks of the underlying fundamental quality that illuminates throughout Fang's artistic career - a "vagueness" that forces us to contemplate our existence. As one of the central visionaries of China's Cynical Realist movement, Fang's works continue to astound us with their unique mix of emotional ennui and rogue humour, with his relentless probing into the human condition with motifs that signify the collective psyche of China in the 1990s that shows tension between the utopian vision and reality. These unusual, experimental works represents not only a complete re-definition of Chinese contemporary culture, but new terrain in contemporary art itself, suggesting alternative approaches to representation, subjectivity, and contemporary aesthetics.

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