(Chinese, B. 1957)
Great Criticism series: IBM
signed 'Wang Guangyi' in Pinyin; signed in Chinese; dated '1994' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
150 x 150.2 cm. (59 x 59 1/8 in.)
Painted in 1994
Hanart T Z Gallery, Hong Kong, China
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Hanart T Z Gallery, Wang Guangyi: The Legacy of Heroism, Hong Kong, China, 2004 (illustrated, p. 71).

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Lot Essay

As one of the leading protagonists of Chinese contemporary art, Wang Guangyi rapidly established himself both i n China and internationally not only as an artist, but as a critic and public intellectual, advocating a radical and progressive re-evaluation of Chinese contemporary art and culture. His paintings belong to the category of Chinese contemporary art termed Political Pop and uniquely combine the ideological power of the Communist propaganda of the Cultural Revolution with the seductive allure of Western advertising, resulting in a flat style reminiscent of American Pop. With his dramatically outlined figures set against flat planes of color, he references a style that is specific to Chinese government posters of the late 1960s and early '70s, while Wang's images, emblazoned with the logos of international consumer brands find a new meaning within the realm of his paintings.

Wang Guangyi trained at the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts and went on to form the 'Northern Art Group' in 1984. The group quickly gained recognition during the so-called '85 New Wave ' in China. Their manifesto, critical discourse and exhibitions defined the Northern Art aesthetic of the time. The second half of 1980's was a period of enlightenment and exploration for Wang Guangyi as he enjoyed sudden exposure to the Western art theory, discourse and philosophy, just as he simultaneously became aware of his own yearning for metaphysical transcendence. As a result, we see throughout his works how Wang Guangyi seeks a new artistic language that is outside what he has been taught, one that can in particular express and reflect his experiences of the social and political changes during China' s turbulent time in the late 1980's. Progressing through his Frozen Northern Wasteland Series, Post- Classicism Series to the Rationality Series to and finally to his Mao portraits, we can trace Wang's desire to conventional and inherited representations of 'reality' and 'truth.'

By the 1990s, as China's rapidly changing economic system transformed to accommodate the demands of the global marketplace, a rush of luxury goods became available to the newly wealthy. It was during this time that Wang began his Great Criticism Series, in which he responds to the impact of a new visual regime: advertising images promoting newly available, high-priced commodities. In the resulting oil paintings, Wang stages conflicts between classical figures of propaganda and the onslaught of luxury consumer goods entering China.

Painted in 1994, this Great Criticism Series - IBM (Lot 1045), offered on behalf of An Important Private German Collection, shows Wang working at the height of his powers, refining his themes into pointed critiques of his aesthetic and social milieu. The canvas is dominated by the formidable perspectival composition of three peasant figures, looking straight out in full, clear-eyed optimism, appearing to be marching triumphantly in celebration. The Little Red Book a t the central canvas references the one used throughout the Cultural Revolution, a symbol of the movement as well as an object of political study. As such it signifies the popular revolutionary doctrine, 'China's future belongs to you'. Such use of iconic propaganda figures and symbols conjure the fundamental, Utopian dream of the revolution, yet by juxtaposing this imagery with the IBM brand, instantaneously appropriates the Utopian dream into the consumerist realm. The irony of it is further amplified with the pop-up advertisement bubble in the lower right of the composition, citing '755 CD' , suggesting such Utopian dream can be purchase with a price tag.

Significantly, on the opposite side of the canvas is placed a perfunctory 'NO' , perpendicularly set against the IBM brand. The juxtaposition of the logo and the 'NO' sign suggests the unresolved balance between self-disciplined idealism and material desires, especially as consumerism took root in China. This imbalance is further implied by the perpendicular positioning of the 'NO' , which can also read as 'ON' , a playful semantic attempt meant to deliberately tease the viewer into quest ioning their intuition and assumptions.

The bright red and yellow background references the bygone revolutionary era, juxtaposed against the monotone of IBM logo and the dull grey price tag. Together these visuals create a conflicted philosophical opposition: what was for Wang the crude turn away from Marxist materialism to simply materialism itself. Such contrasts allow Wang to simultaneously explore the opposing ideologies of Socialism and Capitalism. He regarded the Great Criticism Series as "post-pop work solving the problem of the commodity economy. "Thus, this painting captured the commodity and commercial movement of the time, poking fun at the new values of this supposedly liberalized world. It also implies the ways in which the idealism and heroisms of the Cultural Revolution proved to be untenable and hollow, but perhaps not any less so than the consumerism that has replaced it. By delving into such profound questions of our times and yet with such a clear set of visual strategies, Wang's Great Criticism became an important historical, political, and ideological source for critics and an indispensable new politically-charged artistic language in Chinese contemporary art.

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