As a leading figure in the Southwest Art Group that stemmed from the 85 New Wave Art Movement, Mao Xuhui is one of the most important participants in the Chinese contemporary art world. Like Zhang Xiaogang's Bloodline: The Big Family series, Mao's Parent series establishes pairs of rhetorically related symbols between power and human nature, explores and analyzes human life, and represents a radical search for a tragic history and current reality.
In the Parent series, Mao does not use traditional methods to depict the reality of everyday life. Rather he makes use of symbols. Borrowing the notion of 'position,' Mao concretises it in the form of a chair, and disposes of the concrete characteristics of the human figure, transforming it into a symbolic sign, meanwhile blurring the details of the figure so it appears to be part of the chair itself. The torso symbolises the human soul, and the chair provides support for it. Compare this work to Edvard Munch's painting of the crucifixion, Golgotha, in which Jesus and the cross are one. All we see are the terrified, helpless, tragic expressions on the faces of the faithful gathered at the base of Golgotha.
In Sitting Paternalism at Night, Female, a woman is seated in an armchair. The head lacks all distinguishing features, and the proportions are reduced to a bare minimum. The only indication that the figure is a woman is her large breasts. The symmetrical treatment of her splayed feet and relaxed arms, when viewed straight on, make the figure appear nearly indistinguishable from the large chair. The charred appearance of the twisted, contorted figure, suggests that some terrifying, destructive verdict is about to be declared. The work brings to mind Alberto Giacometti's Annette, set in an oppressive, airless space, the soul of the emaciated figure of Annette representing postwar angst and terror.
The chair in the present lot has transcended its physical properties, and has become a symbol of supreme authority. 'Maternity', comprising of the figure and the chair, has no characteristic that allows us to identify it with anything 'maternal'. It is threatening and helpless, daring but vacuous, serious yet absurd. The image suggests the anger, anxiety and despair of Medea in the Greek tragedy, and Francis Bacon's portrait of Pope Innocent X, in which the subject resides at the pinnacle of power, yet appears to be struggling his way out of a cage, terrified and helpless.
Here, Mao Xuhui establishes a rhetorical relationship between power and human nature, by drawing on his experience of living in China, his experience as a creative artist, and his understanding of Chinese and Western cultures. In his own particular, penetrating way, Mao conveys the embodiment of the human spirit into the experience of history and present day reality. As Mao has said about his art, 'It is not some arbitrary letting off steam or wild act of creation; rather it seeks to draw more people into the search for life and the significance of the earth.'