On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Property of An Important European Collection of Chinese Avant-Garde Art

(Chinese, B. 1963)
Series 1, No. 1
oil on canvas
99.5 x 99 cm. (39 1/8 x 39 in.)
Painted in 1990-1991
Galerie Serieuze Zaken, Amsterdam
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1998
The Art Gallery of New South Wales, New Art from China Post-Mao Product, exh. cat., Sydney, Australia, 1992-1993 (illustrated, plate 32).
Fukuoka Art Museum, The 4th Asian Art Show, exh. cat., Fukuoka, Japan, 1994 (illustrated, plate 3).
The Japan Foundation Forum, Human Images in an Uncertain Age, exh. cat., Tokyo, Japan, 1996 (illustrated, plate 12, p. 33).
Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House, Fang Lijun, Changsha, China, 2001 (illustrated, p. 79).
Ludwig Forum f?r Internationale Kunst, Fang Lijun - Zwischen Peking und Dali, 1989-2002, exh. cat., 2002 (illustrated, p. 26).
Hebei Education Press, Chinese Artists of Today: Fang Lijun, Hebei, China, 2006 (illustrated, p. 84).
Sichuan Fine Arts Publishing House, Collected Edition of Chinese Oil Painter Volume of Fang Lijun, Sichuan, China, 2006 (illustrated, p. 29).
Zhu Zhu (ed.), Artists through the Eyes of a Critic - Case Studies of Artists in Art History and Art Criticism, Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House, Hunan, China, 2008 (illustrated, p. 320).
Lo Yinhua (ed.), Live like a Wild Dog: 1963-2008 Archival Documentation of Fang Lijun, Taipei Fine Arts Museum & She Jie Yi Shu Chu Ban She, Taipei, Taiwan, 2009 (illustrated, p. 213; work in studio illustrated, pp. 192 & 217).
Lu Peng, Fang Lijun, Culture and Art Publishing House, China, 2010 (illustrated, pp. 219 & 224).
Sydney, Australia, The Art Gallery of New South Wales, New Art from China/Post-Mao Product, 1992-1993.
Fukuoka, Japan, Fukuoka Art Museum, The 4th Asian Art Show, 1994.
Tokyo, Japan, The Japan Foundation Forum, Human Images in an Uncertain Age, 2 November-1 December 1996.
Aachen, Germany, Ludwig Forum f?r Internationale Kunst, Fang Lijun - Zwischen Peking und Dali, 1989-2002, 26 April-16 June 2002.
Taipei, Taiwan, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Endlessness of Life: 25 Years Retrospect of Fang Lijun, 18 April-5 July 2009.
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Lot Essay

"Of all the schools of art that arose in the wake of the New Art Movement, the Cynical Realists were the youngest and most energetic. Their mockery of the world illustrated their skepticism and mistrust of terms such as modernization, advance, and reform... Change might have been happening apace, but these were neither fast enough nor relevant enough to satisfy the raging energies of the sagacious youth that was Fang Lijun's generation." - Karen Smith (Nine Lives: The Birth of Avant-Garde Art in New China, Scalo Publishers, 2005, p. 155)

Fang Lijun was one of the few artists who were still students when they participated in the groundbreaking China Avant- Garde: No U-Turn exhibition, held in the National Art Gallery in Beijing in the spring of 1989. Where the events of June 4th were for many artists the end of an era, bringing the creative exuberance of the 1980s to a bitter end, for artists like Fang Lijun and his generation, it was just the beginning. For the Cynical Realists in particular, including Fang, Yue Minjun, Yang Shaobin, Liu Wei, and others, the events of June 4th and the subsequent cultural climate spoke deeply to their own deep feelings of malaise, rebellion, and general distrust of all institutional forms of power and authority.

Where we have come to see Zhang Xiaogang, Zeng Fanzhi, Wang Guangyi, and others as typifying China' s post-1989 avant-garde scene, Fang Lijun was in fact the first among them to receive major international acclaim and find his way into significant public and private collections. Speaking to the distinctly 1990s advent of the liumang in China (loosely, a slacker, lout or hooligan), Fang' s ambiguous bald-headed characters, full of restlessness, humor, and not just a touch of danger, spoke to the combined feelings of nihilism, alienation and hedonism which Fang's generation struggled with. They present the challenges and paradoxes of, and are also a parody of, this new generation's urge towards self-liberation. Unwittingly, they resonate with the famous words uttered by Marlon Brando' s character in the 1953 film of youth in revolt, "The Wild Bunch ". A leader of a motorcycle gang, he's asked, "What are you rebelling against? "His answer: "What have you got?"

Fang's unsettling early canvases blazed a trail through the international art world. They can be found not only in the historic Chinese contemporary collections of Uli Sigg and Baron Guy Ullens, but were also quickly snatched up by such important contemporary collectors as Kent and Vicki Logan in the United States or Wolfgang Joop in Germany. Additionally, these rare and groundbreaking works can also be found in the Fukuoka Art Museum in Japan, in the Stedelijk Museum in the Netherlands, the Queensland Art Museum in Australia, and numerous other institutions worldwide. It is especially rare
then to see a canvas from this historic period come to market.

Series 1, No. 1 (Lot 1042), painted across 1990 and 1991, is in some sense the painting that started it all, the first painting of Fang' s first breakthrough series. Acquired not long after its appearance in the Stedelijk Museum in 1998 by a savvy and dedicated collector of early Chinese avant-garde art, it encapsulates the essential impulses, techniques, and imagery that drove Fang from the beginning. In these early works, Fang was drawing inspiration from his daily life, painting images that resembled himself, his friends, and others, while using them as the imagery through which he would pursue formal and emotive experiments. In this work, a be-spectacled young woman (apparently, curator, critic, and close friend, Liao Wen) with fashionably blunt bangs and a flowing blouse smiles casually at the viewer, relaxed and enjoying this leisurely trip to the beach. Behind her is the seashore, along which a small army of nearly-identical loutish, bald figures, loaf in near-lockstep, eyeing our female protagonist and giving a disconcerting air to the scene.

As a child of the Cultural Revolution, Fang learned how to operate on the margins, how to negotiate tumultuous circumstances in the service of his own needs. At the same time, he maintained a profound sympathy for China's peasants and farmers who, for him, embodied the bitterest ironies of the Communist revolution, those anonymous masses whose lives the state ultimately failed to serve. Fang's own adoption of a shaved head, as well as his depiction of these lugubrious, comic and yet menacing figures, suggest multiple readings, all contributing to Fang's refusal of a coherent visual order. A shaved head in Chinese life suggested the abnegation of one's self, whether as a member of the military, and order of monks, a prisoner, or the mentally ill. By adopting this look, but not any collective affiliation, Fang presents himself and his figures at the margins of society. They are at once anonymous members of an unnamed group; their status cannot quite be named, and as such their very appearance is deeply unsettling.

Fang learned to swim as a student in Beijing, and it is clear that the feelings of escape and liberation that came from visits to the sea were a formative aspect of Fang's personal ethos as well as his art practice. Swimming symbolized a feeling of both abandoning and reconciling the self. As curator Li Xianting, China's earliest and most insightful champion of the avant-garde, has put it, for Fang, images of "white clouds and vast ocean, K express a sense of self-liberation from internalized repression, or as a Chinese expression puts it 'taking one step back into the expanse of the ocean and the vastness of the sky' " (Fang Lijun, S M A Cahiers 13, Stedelijk Museum, 1998, p. 6). At the same time, Fang takes this affectionate snapshot and deliberately eliminates any emotive, painterly pleasures. Inmuted grey tones, the figures and forms of the painting are highly stylized, and the expressivity of Fang's brushwork is consciously eliminated. As such it becomes a surreal scene; our relationship to the figures remains at a distance, our view of them curious, neutral, and confused, as if these are the cobbled-together impressions of a half-remembered dream. The figures that stalk the background fuse Fang's own features with those of the almost timeless figures of peasant-farmers from his earlier work. As such, they haunt his urban work and life, as if refusing to be forgotten as Fang and his contemporaries embark on a seemingly carefree life of independence, self-fulfillment and self-indulgence. They also suggest the advent of Fang's roguish protagonists, seen throughout Series 1 paintings and the artist's subsequent works whose ambiguous expressions and actions - smirking, screaming, yawning, swimming and perhaps drowning - were the basis of the distinct, agitated and yet truncated emotional tenor of Fang's works. As such, they also represent the restlessness of Fang's generation, their roving, unhinged desires, lacking in any ideology; their gaze upon the female figure then becomes threatening, possessive, and hungry for everything that she seems to represent.
In the aftermath of the Tian'anmen Square Incident, artists were compelled to reassess their approaches to art-making, their own place in the world, and the hoped-for place of their art. For artists like Wang Guangyi and Zhang Xiaogang, this meant a revitalized interest in broad historic paradigms and grand symbolic narratives. For artists of a slightly younger generation, the changes in the environment instigated a turn towards the self, but in ways that were no less about the direction of the nation as a whole.

How does one visualize institutionalized structures of repression? How does one convey its emotional operations in individual lives? In Fang's groundbreaking Series 1, No. 1, we see how the artist drew inspiration from the substance of his personal life. We see also how these activities and images, in the artist's re-working, index the newfound levels of freedom and leisure to be pursued as a new consumer-oriented culture took root, and how these could serve as a hollow but sufficiently distracting palliative for the pain and loss felt after June 4th. Having witnessed "all the evil that people can be capable of" (Karen Smith, p. 145), from the degradations of the Cultural Revolution through his present situation, Fang sought a visual language that could capture the ennui of a generation as it turned inward. As such, Fang's loafing rogues are symbols of a sublimated need for self-expression and rebellion, as well as a parody of that struggle, highlighting its ultimate futility. The works of the Cynical Realists have long been noted for their sardonic humor, ironic posturing, and satirical view of the world. But their humor is not conventionally "black" but rather "grey", marked by ambiguity, a feeling of incompletion, and a resistance, fundamentally, to rationality and coherence. Fang Lijun's precocious entree in the Beijing art world powerfully captured the malaise that had settled on its creative community. His casual, personal, and candid imagery, conjures the modernist trope of the artist's pursuit of self-discovery and liberation. Rendered in a deliberately unsettling composition, with a neutral palette and impersonal brush, he keeps the viewer at bay, denying us the satisfaction of a conventional aesthetic resolution. In so doing, he discovered an utterly new mode of representation, one that captured the underlying emotional character of his generation, placed China' s post-' 89 avant-garde on the international map, and ushered in a new mode of art-making and representation that would be the calling card of his generation.

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