(Chinese, B. 1943)
Mao and His People - Blue
signed in Chinese; dated '95' (lower right)
acrylic on canvas
175 x 136 cm. (68 7/8 x 53 1/2 in.)
Painted in 1995
Hanart T Z Gallery, Hong Kong, China
Acquired from the above by the present owner

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Felix Yip
Felix Yip

Lot Essay

Over the last several years, Chinese contemporary art has fully established itself in the international arena. We now can clearly see the ways in which artists successfully transformed contemporary Chinese art and culture, fundamentally altering the ways in which the nation represented and reflected upon its own circumstances. One core aspect of this history though is not just the ways in which these artists changed the course of Chinese art, but the ways in which their works moved and inspired international collectors seeking fresh ideas and innovative techniques in the art world. From its nascent stages, collectors saw in this movement not just the tentative yearnings of a then-underground avant-garde, but imagery, concepts and techniques unlike anything they had seen before.

Such is the case with the twenty lots from an Important Private German Collection which Christie's proudly offers as highlights across our Evening and Day sale auctions. Born into a well-known German collecting family, long ensconced in the European art world and dating back to the salons and galleries that produced the great German Expressionists of the early 20th century, this collection of historic Chinese works served as the cap on a lifetime of living and breathing every trend in Western art, perpetually searching for new areas of inspiration.

Hong Kong today is the pre-eminent cosmopolitan gateway to Asia, and in the 1990s, it served as an important entry point for intrepid collectors as well. The bulk of the collection was acquired in that tumultuous decade, and offers a range of works that highlight not only the historic changes taking place in China, but also the ways in which these works simply did not look like anything that had come before. In the Evening sale, we see the monumental, haunting symbolic narratives of Zhang Xiaogang's iconic Bloodline Family No. 9 (Lot 1046), as well as important early works from the artists who established the dominant threads in Chinese Pop Art: the furious, ideologically complex musings of Wang Guangyi's Great Criticism Series: IBM (Lot 1045), alongside the Chinese folk art and kitsch inspired portraits of Mao, Mao and His People: Blue (Lot 1044), from Yu Youhan. Across the day sale we further see experiments in the use of private, mysterious, and provocative symbolic systems in the works of Yue Minjun and Mao Xuhui; explorations of calligraphy, ink painting and traditional Chinese aesthetics from Feng Mingchip, Qiu Zhijie, Qiu Shihua, and Gu Wenda; forays into highly conceptual approaches to representation and mediation in the works of Feng Mengbo and Yan Lei, and more. Taken together these works represented radical new approaches to subjectivity, representation, and narrative that were understood, first, as fresh and inspiring new approaches to contemporary art-making, long before the world came to see them, additionally, as harbingers of China's transformation as a nation and formidable player on the global stage. It is in collections like these that we see the double-edged value of Chinese contemporary art as it revolutionized Chinese culture itself, while simultaneously discovering unexplored new territory in contemporary art.

In Yu Youhan's colored, floral-strewn portraits, Mao's principles of "art for the purpose of political instruction" and "art for the pleasure of the masses", set forth in his Yan'an talks on literature and art are given a new twist. In Mao and His People - Blue (Lot 1044), the idea of power and masses of the Cultural Revolution is conveyed in the multiplicity of peasants and workers figures dressed informingly in blue. The notion of strength in number carries through into the Cultural Revolution, in which model citizens gather before Mao in the Tiananmen Square, is one that defines China as a nation even up till today. Here, Yu depicts Mao floating amidst the crowd that strides out of the picture frame towards the audience, with a waving red flag in the mid-ground. Yu as such places the content of the composition in tension with the picture plane, and the image is one suggestive of his continued popularity and cult-like status, one that was passionately revived and rendered nearly to the status of kitsch by the growth of consumer culture in China. Yu has created a mysterious but inviting space, one that draws us towards the idealism inherent in the image drawn from the past, suggesting that the new transformations that the nation was facing might not only lead to a new prosperity, but might also at last make good on the great promise of the revolution. Across these two extraordinary canvases then, we can see how Yu's Political Pop is one that creates visions that are intimate, disarming, and inspiring, tapping the unconscious power communist iconography still held, its ability to lead the nation towards new dreams and horizons.

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