Guangyi Wang (b. 1956)
WANG GUANGYI (Chinese, B. 1957)

Great Criticism Seris: Sprite

WANG GUANGYI (Chinese, B. 1957)
Great Criticism Seris: Sprite
oil on canvas
149.5 x 120 cm. (58 7/8 x 47 1/4 in.)
Painted in 1992
Hanart T Z Gallery, Hong Kong, China
Private Collection, Switzerland

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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: Sprite (Lot 517), Great Criticism: Rolex (lot 573), and Great Criticism: Time (Lot 657), the title of the paintings is self-explanatory, both brands belonging to the luxury market with its high-priced commodities. In Great Criticism: Rolex composition of a proletariat famer and military figures pointing into the distance. A perfunctory 'NO' is set perpendicularly against the 'ROLEX' 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.

In Great Criticism: Walt Disney's Art (Lot 572), four military figures, pose gallantly in a formidable pyramid composition and gaze fearlessly towards the future; in Great Criticism: Sprite, the title again suggests the widely available and affordable mass everyday products of contemporary life. The soldiers' gallant and chiseled facial features express a similar stoic resistance to the imposition of the commercial brands. Painted in 2003, Untitled (Lot 574) is a monochromatic work in black that use the iconic propaganda figures and star-burst symbols to conjure the fundamental woodblock print of the Communist era, the utopian dream of the revolution that is now re-appropriated and transformed in the China's post-Mao era. The poses and compositions of these five 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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