(Chinese, B. 1957)
Great Criticism Series: Disney's
signed in Chinese; signed 'Wang Guang Yi' in Pinyin and dated '2006' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
200 x 159.6 cm. (78 3/4 x 62 3/4 in.)
Painted in 2006

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Eric Chang
Eric Chang

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Lot Essay

Wang Guangyi is one of the central figures of the Chinese Political Pop movement. Best known for his Great Criticism series, Wang creates links between the propaganda aesthetics of the Cultural Revolution and striking imagery of American Pop, which in turn was inspired by the new levels of commercialism and consumerism penetrating popular culture in the U.S. By doing so, he holds a mirror up to China's present. With a critical attitude towards his home country, he comments at China's globalization efforts and international exchange, viewing both as heightened commercialism. 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.
Great Criticism Series: Disney's (Lot 495) is a rare subject matter in the Great Criticism series, wherein the sea wave swirls around the central figure, a visual element that showcases Wang's painterly skills of simple outlines and brushstrokes. Given the symbolic usage of the sea wave drawing, this can be found in Chinese painting dating back to the Qing Dynasty (Fig. 1), as the influence of Chinese ink painting can be traced in Great Criticism Series: Disney's, where the simplicity of Chinese brushstrokes technique and its distinctively flat perspective may create a sense of movement in the sea wave and softness in the garment. In this oil painting, Wang stages conflicts between classical figures of propaganda and the onslaught of super brands such as Disney entering into China. The classical propaganda figure herein, features a more exaggerated expression with more defined facial features, heightened on the influence and nuance of the animated visual culture. The visual tension between the iconic western Disney logo and the propaganda protagonist is further accentuated, with the protagonist looking upwards in a stern gaze, with his back of his palm overshadowed by the Disney logo, as if Wang suggests that the Chinese people has the ability to fight against the super brand, in similar manner to the Chinese propaganda poster slogan in 1976, which uses the sea and wave as metaphor to encourage people to strength up both physically and mentally, hinting that even the hardest and roughest of the sea waves can be conquered with determination (Fig. 2).

Great Criticism Series: Artco (Lot 494) is unusual in Wang's the Great Criticism series, focusing not on Western luxury brands but instead on a respected and popular Taiwanese art magazine. As such, Artco represent something else entirely, the deeply rooted foundation on cultural and art education in Taiwan, as well as the ultimate guide to contemporary art news and investment. The monotone version of "Little Red Book", the ubiquitous text of the communist era, is held firmly and piously by the featured soldiers below Chairman Mao, marching united in their enthusiasm for this new tome. Such use of iconic propaganda figures and symbols conjure the fundamental, Utopian dream of the revolution, yet by juxtaposing this imagery with the Artco brand, instantaneously appropriates the Utopian dream into the new and unexpected territory of China's post-Mao transformation, and further suggests the art and cultural nuance that was much lost during the reformative year during the Cultural Revolution. Since Artco magazine represent the ultimate guide to the investment news in Asian contemporary art, the affiliation of its logo symbolise another version of commodity, knowledge, a new form and intangible commodity that is becoming popular for the nouveau riche.

Wang regarded the Great Criticism series as "post-pop work solving the problem of the commodity economy." Thus, these paintings 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 heroicism 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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