"After 1989 I returned to the study of pictoriality. My subject had been the texture, the stratum, the construction and the concoction of the frame and, along with all this, the subtle dissimilarity between each formal quality. They are what concern the magnitude and strength of brushwork, albeit not exclusively. Deep inside such quest is the ceaseless spirited desire, that is, the antiquated sense of authority. In Chinese history this authority bore immense significance in that it affects the progress of our society. The concept of 'parent' refers not to any individual but a unique conviction that existed all through the history of China. Only in this perspective can I intensify such ordinary notion as 'parent', which, through measured modifications, lives in different veins and forms. After 1989 I care not about my own self - and that is the important part. "
- Mao Xuhui
Following the Guishan series of the 1980s, Mao Xuhui turned his focus to the social consciousness deeply rooted in Chinese culture. '92 Paternalism (Lot 1044), both for its size and structure, is rightly considered to be one of the most sophisticated creations among his Parent series. Awarded in the First 1990s Biennial Art Fair in Guangzhou, this artwork came to be a leading representational piece of Mao's creative career when he became a professional artist in 1993.
The centrepiece of '92 Paternalism is an ordinary chair, with a key and a door on the sides. They are all symbols of quotidian objects, common in appearance and yet profoundly lodged with Confucian orthodoxy and the patriarch philosophy of the Chinese feudal society. While the colour black and the style of the chair effect a solemn, intricate impression, its upright arm and back lift straight up whoever sits on the chair. With such positional altitude, the chair engenders a sense of distance to the audience as compared to those postures of standing and sitting on ground. This type of chair, by tradition, is in the best way symbolic of the power and prestige of the nobility and bureaucrat; conventionally stalled in the hall; it signifies the status of the host in formal occasions or ceremonies. The inspiration of Mao, in his appropriation of the symbol of authority and power, originates from his thorough understanding of the traditional Chinese patriarchy and ethical philosophy - that there is a proper order between old and young, rich and poor. Just as the father exercises absolute sovereignty in a family, the emperor demands unquestioning obedience from his citizens. This is how the chair becomes the symbol of a fundamental concept respecting the relationship between altitude, sitting posture and social class.
On the sides are the key and the door, which, almost like a couplet, highlight the notion of menhu, a metaphor for social status. Door nails were initially part of the slab door, but as they assumed more decorative function through time, the number of doornails was turned into a class signature. The door, being an entrance, had always been taken as a mark of social and economics footing throughout the history of China; an eminent poet of the Tang dynasty, Bai Juyi, once read in his Laments for Palazzo : "To whom this palazzo belong, with the red door built on the grand avenue? " In the past the Chinese had to pattern their residence and door according to the status of their family. For this observation Mao Xuhui avails of red pigments to depict the key and the doornails against the grayish black background, thereby configuring the formal structure of '92 Paternalism. The oval frame in the center takes the form of a mirror or a window, directing the gaze of the audience outside in, and at the same time delineating the out-and-in juxtaposition of the door and the chair. The red lines, either or not continuous, shape the three panels of the triptych and lay a spatial constraint to the work. With the various textures and shades of gray Mao creates the dimension and perspective of a palatial, out-of-the way mansion that encumbers the chair, which altogether enhance the authority of "parent".
Chinese contemporary art has been considerably unique in that artists express their awareness and interpretation of the transformation of their homeland. With '92
Paternalism Mao Xuhui narrates his thoughts and doubts on the Chinese traditional value. For two thousand years Confucian teaching was the orthodox philosophy of China, and one of its advocates had been that "for a family there is the order between father and son; for a country there is the order between emperor and courtier. These are the great ethics of men." Such relationship, which equates filial piety with loyalty, has left the authority of parent unshaken. The seemingly uncomplicated symbols in '92 Paternalism are indeed an accumulation of this longstanding cultural value. In this work Mao not only questions the concept of parent and its significations, but also reflects upon the norms and shackles that run through history.