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ZHAN WANG (B. 1962)
Artificial Rock No. 94
titled ‘94#’; signed in Chinese; dated ‘2006’; numbered ‘4/4’ (lower back)


stainless steel sculpture
sculpture: 105 x 51 x 33 cm. (41 1/4 x 20 x 13 in.)
stand: 16 x 29 x 28 cm. (6 1/4 x 11 3/8 x 11 in.)
edition 4/4
Executed in 2006

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Lot Essay

Zhan Wang is one of China’s most important contemporary conceptual artists, producing sculptures, installations, performances, photography and video. In his early works, the artist created hyper-realistic sculptures that explored his personal experiences, perspectives, and observations about society and politics. After entering his celebrated Artificial Rock period, he further focused on the transformation of sculptural forms, combining concept with technical skill to create his dramatic mirrored stones. In that light, the Artificial Rock series represents a fusion of human invention with natural form. In the third stage of his artistic career, Zhan Wang revisited the essence of sculpture; for his Morph and Forms in Flux series, he transformed distorted images into sculptures, combining man and rock. At the same time, he used mathematic formulae to create amorphous three dimensional shapes inspired by nature. First exploring the essence of sculptural form and then transcending it in his return to and re-examination of nature, Zhan Wang has never wavered in his scrutiny of beauty.

In this special Evening Sale, we are proud to present a work from Zhan Wang’s iconic Artificial Rock series – Artificial Rock No. 94 (Lot 8011). The artist began working on the Artificial Rock series in 1995, creating sculptures out of stainless steel that are modelled after real stones. Works from this series now reside in the collections of renowned art museums such as the Metropolitan Art Museum in New York and London’s British Museum.

The Artificial Rocks take on numerous shapes, but all of their forms harken back to the concepts of “fineness, spirited energy, porosity, and translucency” that are central to rock appreciation by scholars in ancient China. These “strange rocks” symbolize the wonders of nature, while also referencing the similarly irregular yet elegant aesthetics of classical Chinese calligraphy. More importantly, they also remind us of the infinite variety of rocks that surround us in our natural environment.

Mi Fu, one of the four great calligraphers of the Song Dynasty who held the title Professor of Painting and Calligraphy by royal appointment, was famous for his obsession with rocks, to the extent where a story of him visiting and conversing with rocks has entered historical legend. The ancients’ love of rocks stems from a sense of respect and awe for nature – the study and examination of the natural world’s aesthetics have given Chinese artists and scholars great appreciation for the shapes and wonders of stones. The physical form of a rock can hint at the noncorporeal, their limitations can reveal the inexhaustible, and the fact that they are frozen in time also reflect eternity. Their austere sharpness and demure colours are also symbolic of great personal character.

Artificial Rock No. 94 presents us with a universe of detail. Physically it has an energetic side that conjures up images of rugged mountain ranges and soaring peaks, but other areas are smooth and calm, with the quality of a running stream’s gentleness and crystalline clarity. Tang poet Bai Juyi wrote in The Rocks of Taihu Lake that the best stones contain “alpine ridges, caves and grottos, views of the world, condensed in one; sights near and far, present and past, presented to you.” Dynamic undulations and intricately interwoven negative spaces make Artificial Rock No. 94 a microcosm of all the world’s wonders. The framework of abstraction, metaphors, and symbolism that ancient Chinese scholars applied to rocks reveal a sophisticated understanding of man’s relationship with nature that is surprisingly modern and very ahead of their times.

Zhan Wang borrows elements of the Western approach to contemporary art and combines them with an innovative use of material in order to redefine an object that is intrinsically Chinese. Viewers may see in his works the enduring resonance of ancient Taihu rock, or think of Zhan Wang’s sculptures as a contemporary extension of the ancient practice of rock-viewing and appreciation. But the gleaming surface of an Artificial Rock would be jarring and alien among a traditional Chinese garden’s natural stones. In that regard, Zhan Wang’s work serves as a link between the traditional and the contemporary worlds. The way in which the artist meticulously and obsessively tries to reproduce the original rock reflects an attempt to reconcile the differences between those worlds. Since 1995, the artist’s efforts to create Artificial Rocks has never been about replicating the genuine article; instead, by creating an inseparable connection between the subject matter (the real) and the work (the reproduction), the artist establishes a new aesthetic order that is characteristically Chinese. Similar to Jasper John’s Flag, the Artificial Rock becomes a symbol of a collective consciousness. Spanning across the two domains of sculptural art and conceptual art, Artificial Rock No. 94 thus exists in an intriguing dream-like dimension of ambiguity and duality.

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