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(ZHU MING, Chinese, B. 1938)
Taichi Series: Advancing Step Barricade Moving Punch Lean Forward; & Taichi Series: Withdraw and Push
signed in Chinese; dated ''98' (incised on lower back)
signed in Chinese; dated ''98' (incised on lower right)
two wood sculptures
48.1 x 32.9 x 67.8 cm. (18 15/16 x 12 15/16 x 26 11/16 in.); & 65.8 x 41.4 x 66 cm. (25 7/8 x 16 5/16 x 25 15/16 in.) (2)
Executed in 1998 (2)
Private Collection, Asia

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Lot Essay

The modernism prevailing in the Western art scene in the early 20th century influenced Asian cultures to redefine sculpture. The art form, once regarded as functional, subordinate and decorative, advanced to a pure one, with artistic characteristics that were gaining recognition in the West. This explains why the history of sculpture in Asia in the early 20th century was, on the one hand, closely related to modernism in Western art and on the other, striving to express their oriental philosophy and identity. The Taiwanese sculptor Ju Ming has carved a prominent position in the international art scene with his 'Taichi Series', rich in oriental spirit. The Ju Ming Museum in Taiwan is also recognized as the first museum especially designed for Chinese sculptures in Asia.

Space of Humanity

Unlike paintings, sculptures are solids occupying space that cannot stay isolated from the environment. A sculpture not only constructs possible meanings depending on the space in which it is displayed, but also shapes the aura of its surroundings. As the philosopher Martin Heidegger once wrote, 'We would have to learn to recognise that things themselves are places and do not merely belong to a place', and that sculpture is thereby 'the embodiment of places'.

This revolutionary theory broke the conventional concept that sculptures were blank containers holding isolated objects. Heidegger further pointed out that it is through sculptures that we understand our place and our roots in the world. The space we are looking for in this world is a space for life, a space that sculptures build and relate with us.

The 'Taichi Series' (formerly 'Kung Fu Series') from 1976 echoes the unwavering traditional Chinese spirit of 'Man in Unison with the Universe'. Taichi is not just a means of physical training, but also a psychological one that helps humans integrate harmoniously into the cycle of nature. The gravity of the sculpture Taichi Series: Advancing Step Barricade Moving Punch Lean Forward (Lot 44) is held in the figure's legs, while movements of its waist and arms bring the body into a forward lunge ready for attack. However, the gravity in Taichi Series: Withdraw and Push (Lot 44) moves forward. The figure's palms press with imminent force as they go forward in defense.

Ju Ming once explained : 'The most prominent characteristic of Taichi lies in "neither pushing nor releasing". An opponent's attack let loose naturally without any direct opposition from me. That said, I am still the one who actively takes charge not to let him escape. One is regarded as an expert if he can reach that level after practice.'

Taichi Series: Advancing Step Barricade Moving Punch Lean Forward & Taichi Series: Withdraw and Push features an unidentified Taichi player without any distinguishing facial or physical features. What matters is the relationship between body postures and the space, not the player's identity. Taichi sculptures require no definite space. With variations in time, light and space, they start a new dialogue with new content with the area in which they are set. As the American sculptor Isamu Noguchi said of Taichi: 'As in relative perspective of our vision, lay volume, line point, giving shape, distance and proportion. Movement, light and time itself are also qualities of space'. (I. Noguchi, quote in S. Hunter, Isamu Noguchi, New York, 1978, p. 85.) The dynamic lines on carved surfaces and the mass and dimensions of the wood all provide a unique experience as the viewer strolls around the sculpture.

Truth of Material

Ju Ming simplifies physical details to create a free and flexible sculpture displaying the full strength of Taichi. Meaning not only rests in the form it takes, but also in the wood and scripts. The wood is itself a witness of life in nature, shaped by the seasons and physical environment, as evident in its grain, lines and scars. The sculpting follows the inner qualities of the wood to build dialogues and back/forth movements, symbolising the spiritual concepts of yin and yang and continuity.

Ju Ming applies both sculpting and carving in a way that allows the image of the sculpture to be unraveled one by one. Ju Ming said: 'I did hand-tear the wood at some point to let it crack through the natural lines to preserve its original textures. It enables the emergence of artistic vocabulary and vitality which I have no intention to change. Natural wood is an everlasting life form with shapes and lines more beautiful than anything I carved

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