Eternal Rays Series

Eternal Rays Series
signed 'Wang Guang Yi' Pinyin; signed in Chinese; dated '2004' (lower right)
oil on canvas
150 x 120 cm. (59 x 47 1/4 in.)
Painted in 2004
ShanghArt Gallery, Shanghai, China
Acquired from the above by the present owner
ShanghArt Gallery, Shanghai, China, 2005 (illustrated, p. 32).

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Lot Essay

Wang Guangyi is considered one of the key figures of China's Political Pop movement. His Great Criticism series originated from the artist's reaction towards the influx of Western luxury goods into the rapidly changing Chinese economy during the 1990s. Wang juxtaposed the imagery of socialist propaganda with Western brand names to conjure clashing visual metaphors as well as an ideological antagonism. These paintings embodied his strong position that 'the role of an artist is that of a social critic.'

Great Criticism: Dior (Lot 682) features a Red Army soldier wearing a superman-type cape. His body gesture is typically seen in Modern Chinese Operas such as Shajiabang or the Legend of the Red Lantern . Set against a red background, the haute couture brand 'Dior' poses a jarring parallel to the proletarian class and communist lifestyle the figure represents. In Great Criticism: XO CHINE (Lot 622), the figurative group represents the work-peasant-solider student phenomenon during the Cultural Revolution. This utopian educational model deprived many talents from proper education due to corrupted system. The juxtaposition of the central imagery with slogan 'XO (Hennessy cognac) Chine (China in French)' serves as Wang's critiques of the decade-long 'drunken' age, during which real lives and infrastructures were inflicted and destroyed.

Great Criticism: Art Race (Lot 623) does not bear the usual recognizable brand names that are commonplace in Wang works. The unique color combination renders the image into a negative, making the implied logo 'Kodak' decidedly absent yet vividly present, and implying surreptitious cultural invasion that further adds to the irony. The logo 'Art Race' shows a new direction in Wang's work: a fundamental transformation of the subject of criticism from social concerns to artistic ones. Here, instead of bluntly inserting names such as Warhol or Beuys, Wang Guangyi chooses to adopt a neutral phrase. He once said, "Art race now is different from before in the sense that nowadays rules are constantly changing. A great artist not only has to master all the rules of past games, he must also create new rules for the playground. (1)" Similarly, the reduction of the color palette to hard-edged black and white in Eternal Ray Series (Lot 610) reflects Wang's shifted attention from social-political matters to pure artistic concerns. In opposition to his earlier in works, Eternal Ray exhibits the artist's investigation of the ultimate visual power and seductiveness of classic revolutionary imagery.

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