(Chinese, B. 1957)
Great Criticism: Kodak
dated '2005'; signed 'Wang Guangyi' in Pinyin and Chinese (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
120.7 x 149.9 cm. (47 1/2 x 59 in.)
Painted in 2005
Lillian Heidenberg Fine Art, New York, USA
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2007
RED HOT: Asian Art Today from the Chaney Family Collection, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, USA, 2007 (illustrated, p. 58).
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, USA, RED HOT: Asian Art Today from the Chaney Family Collection, 22 July-2 October 2007.

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Felix Yip
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Lot Essay

As one of the leading protagonists of Chinese contemporary art, Wang Guangyi rapidly established himself both in 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. During the mid-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. 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.

In Great Criticism - Rolex (Lot 2451) and Great Criticism - Rado (Lot 2491) the title of the paintings is self-explanatory, both brands belonging to the luxury market with its high-priced commodities. Each canvas is dominated by the formidable pyramid shaped. In Great Criticism - Rolex composition of three military figures, marching cheerfully and fearlessly towards the future; in Great Criticism - Rado, composed of a workman with spade digging downwards, his body and the spade form a lean pyramid that direct viewer's gaze to the emblems of the brand. In each painting, a perfunctory 'NO' is set perpendicularly against the 'ROLEX' and 'RADO' brand. The juxtaposition of the logo and the 'NO' sign suggests the unresolved balance between self-disciplined idealism and material desires, a profound ideological shift that overtook the nation as global consumerism took root in China. With Great Criticism - Kodak (Lot 2363) and Great Criticism - Pepsi (Lot 2498), the titles again suggest the widely available and affordable mass everyday products of contemporary life. Significantly, these two pieces have eliminated the emblem of 'NO'; the soldiers' gallant and chiselled facial features express a similar stoic resistance to the imposition of the commercial brands. The poses and compositions of these four paintings juxtapose the world's most recognizable brand names and logos with recognizable scenes from propaganda posters of the Cultural Revolution, a complex conceptual tableau wherein both the past and present, communism and capitalism, co-mingle, showing at once this ironic turn of events, as well as the peculiar visual compatibility of these two antithetical systems.

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