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Mask Series 1999

Mask Series 1999
signed in Chinese; signed Zeng Fanzhi in Pinyin; dated 1999 (lower right)
oil on canvas
108.8 x 108.8 cm. (42 7/8 x 42 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1999
Private Collection, Europe
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 2010

Condition report

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Lot Essay

Zeng Fanzhi's Mask series represented the voice of a generation during a time when China was going through rapid social, political and economic changes. Through the portraits, Zeng explored the ironic gap between public and private truths, the honesty of emotional expression in modern Chinese society, and in the process exposing the psychological torment felt by those compelled into new social roles. Zeng not only documented such anxieties but also his struggles with loneliness and isolation as a newcomer to a cosmopolitan city. He identified with individuals who were overwhelmed by a sense of alienation felt in rapidly changing urban settings and obligation of social performance imposed on urban China's aspiring cosmopolitans. As an Artist, this dynamic and frenzied moment in time ignited in him an urge to explore new artistic expression and also prove to be fertile ground for artistic growth and development.

Amidst a grey background in Mask Series (Lot 535), looms a debonair figure in a tailored suit with pocket square, a fashion statement revealing one's social standing. The hair is slick back with his mask facing directly at the viewer, almost expressionless. As Zeng once said, "Human beings all tend to show the best of themselves, such as the affected poses before a camera, the simulated posture of a complacent citified person." As such, his protagonist of Mask Series rather stands as a symbol of China's new social order, one that is corrupted by superficiality and false surfaces. Mask Series belongs to the later period of the Mask Series, which is described as more "relaxed," by the art critic Li Xianting. Indeed, all the tension of the psyche and its manifestations in the flesh has softened in the canvas.

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