Chen Zhen died tragically young at the age of 45 in 2000. During his brief career working internationally, he quickly established himself as one of the most thought-provoking conceptual artists of his generation. The four works on paper featured here (Lot 244) were studies for the 1997 installation Prayer Wheel (Fig. 1), one of the Chen Zhen's earliest forays into large-scale installation art and ritualized interventions into everyday life, first exhibited on the occasion of the reopening of PS1 in New York that same year. For the work, the artist provided the following statement:
"Money Makes the Mare Go" (Chinese slang)1997
Prayer Wheel is an installation physically based on two spatial points: "pass through" and "underground".
The first point is linked with the labyrinth-like structure of a huge building. The idea of putting a turning wheel between passages is intended to allow everyone to "pass through" this object. The second point is related to the atmosphere in the basement, which is very cold, humid, fantastic and dreamy. So the "paper temple" and the "trash-lanterns" become a dialogue with such an environment.
Prayer Wheel is also a reminder of my own experience in Tibet during the three months before I left my country. Turning the prayer wheel was a very important ritual of my daily experience that gave me many strange feelings and tremendous mental illuminations.
In this project, the sense of the wheel is metaphorically transformed. Capitalism is becoming the world religion, which implies that everybody should "pass through" this wonderful dream of monetary wealth, even in my own country of China, which still remains a communist-socialist society.
Trying to bring good luck to the people, Prayer Wheel insinuates ironically that the human mind is like a turning machine of coins" with an obsession for prosperity.
People turn the wheel praying for wealth: "Money Makes the Mare Go," and thus the World.
(in Chen Zhen: A Tribute, exh. cat., P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, 2003, p. 179-180).