ZENG FANZHI (Chinese, B. 1964)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT ASIAN PRIVATE COLLECTION
ZENG FANZHI (Chinese, B. 1964)

Portrait 06-1

ZENG FANZHI (Chinese, B. 1964)
Portrait 06-1
signed in Chinese; signed Zeng Fanzhi in Pinyin; dated '2006-2007' (lower right)
oil on canvas
219 x 149 cm. (86 1/4 x 58 5/8 in.)
Painted in 2006-2007
Private Collection, Asia
Gallery Hyundai, Zeng Fanzhi 1989-2007, Seoul, Korea, 2007 (work in studio illustrated, back cover & unpaged, illustrated, plate 22, unpaged).
Muse dart Moderne de Saint-Etienne Mtropole, Zeng Fanzhi, Saint-Etienne, France, 2007 (illustrated, plate 19).
Hanje Cantz Verlag, Zeng Fanzhi: Every Mark Its Mask, Ostfildern, Germany, 2010 (work in studio illustrated, unpaged).
Seoul, Korea, Gallery Hyundai, Zeng Fanzhi 1989-2007, 7-25 March 2007. Saint-Etienne, France, Muse dart Moderne de Saint-Etienne Mtropole, Zeng Fanzhi, 15 September-18 November 2007.
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Lot Essay

What should the function of portraiture be, if it is to have a value for us?

One of the hallmarks of European portraiture is a sense of reality, it also served a variety of social functions in Renaissance and Baroque Europe - the magnificent costume highlights the subject's wealth and fashionable sensitivity, as a definition of class and identity. Anthony van Dyck's Portrait of Charles I (Fig. 1) was images of regal majesty. It conjured an age of extravagant costume and cultivated ease, suggesting that true nobility stemmed from virtue rather than birth. Clothing was the symbol of virtue, a ladder for the divine ascent of the soul.

Zeng Fanzhi is a prominent protraitist in contemporary world. His portraitures attempt to probe the truth - to express human existential conditions. In 1999, he embarked on a new conduit to echo the world of Baroque from his reconsideration of traditional portraiture. The figures were given identities and moved closer to his initial Expressionist influences, using minimalist lines and a greater abstraction of form, to express the piercing gushes hitherto veiled by the stoically static smiles and unseeing eyes of the masks.

In Portrait-06-1 (Lot 48), Zeng Fanzhi strips his portrait to great minimum, leaving only his subject's sartorial choices, a casually composed posture and the slightest hint of an environment with the slashing diagonal stroke behind the heels. The lone male figure is meticulously dressed in a lustrous dark trench coat and black leather shoes, paired with the engorged hands, against a barren background. "My figures are all a piece of a mirror; they reflect our inner selves, and our feelings towards other entities." revealed the artist. Throughout different periods, the sartorial choices of his subjects have documented Zeng Fanzhi's personal chronicle of the conversion from socialist symbols to the savours of a capitalist society. The Red scarf was a recurrent motif in his earlier works (Fig. 2), symbolising belief in collectivism; while the western suit often appeared in his later works, underlining individualism. Clothing therefore is in essence a mirror of social, economic, political and cultural landscape. It is not only representations, but also a reconstitution of collective reminiscences within the historical present- it embodies time.

The paradoxical bourgeois suit here stands for a symbol of China's emerging middle class stratum infiltrated by Western values, signifying a dissection between the psyche of the individual and the imposition of Communist philosophy on the social self. A newly consumerist society has liberated the individual to become a free agent of self-invention and self-representation. Yet, is freedom obtained in Capitalist society? As Karl Marx and Frederick Engels suggested, "Only in community [has each] individual the means of cultivating his gifts in all directions; only in the community, therefore, is personal freedom possible. In the previous substitutes for the community, in the State, etc. personal freedom has existed only for the individuals who developed within the relationships of the ruling class, and only insofar as they were individuals of this class." Freedom may be enjoyed by individuals but only in and through the community. Fashion trends have long been set by the society, and unarguably by Capitalism in the 21st century, where change, contradiction and obsolescence trump continuity, stability and tradition. As suggested by 20th century French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, clothing is an expression of social differentiation particularly class distinction. In this work, the individual psyche is rendered in the throes of re-acculturation, searching for a role in society, leaving the subject utterly alone.

Portrait-06-1 displays a tantalising balance of form and spirit. The linear expression work in tandem with the free painting style of an abstraction that stresses spirituality, aligning with Zen Buddhism's aesthetic. The figure is outlined with sketchy, abridged brushwork, with a spare stroke that leaves on the canvas a brown haze eliciting an airy realm of meditation suffused with an inimitably Chinese aura. The lines leave us to weep the capriciousness and ephemerality of life, reflecting a meditation on aesthetics.
Echoing the liubai (empty space) of Chinese traditional art, the background here is left blank, imbuing the canvas with a sagacity of evenness and void. All other signifiers are eliminated; the artist creates for his character a queer world and a peculiar state of existence: he is thrown into a vague space, unanchored and exposed. "To be a work means to set up a world," a notion of 20th century German philosopher Martin Heidegger. Works (real objects) are there to be read and thus transformed into worlds (imaginary objects). This work reminds us how the fragile artefact resonates in consonance with the ephemerality of the represented world.

Here, as 20th century German art historian Erwin Panofsky said, "seeks to bring out whatever the sitter has in common with the rest of humanity." By virtue of its form, this work transcends the entrapped subject; what wants wilfully to drown out its entrapment becomes infantile and makes out of its heteronomy a social-ethical triumph. It artfully raises questions of human existence in the unstoppable wave of Capitalism, which meld to create an overpowering emotional depth. The thrust of the motion enfolds upon time, passing between one mark and the next.

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