As one of the foremost members of China's contemporary avant-garde, Wang Guangyi built his reputation on signature works that exude rationality and diversity, a radical departure from the stifling formalism that was imposed by the academies. Not only as an artist, but as a critic, theorist, and public intellectual, Wang's deconstruction of both Western and Eastern images helped constitute a new cultural language for contemporary China.
The inspiration for his iconic Great Criticism series arose from the sight of a packet of cigarettes on top of a magazine with illustrations from the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), an extended period of chaos and destruction during the Communist era. The propaganda images juxtaposing the western advertisements led him to explore the dichotomy between the two opposing ideologies of socialism and capitalism, exposing the ways in which these two supposedly antithetical systems nonetheless have decidedly complementary aesthetic strategies. In this way, Wang simultaneously affects a critique of the legacy of communism in China, while also producing an essentially Marxist critique of Western consumer fetishism. In Citizen, Wang adheres to the conventional archetypes of the People's Liberation soldiers and industrial laborers seen in propaganda posters. However, their heroic and vigilant spirit is confronted by the abrasive branding of western commercialism. The jarring 'NO' is the rejection of bourgeois materialism; Wang's appropriation of these two visual styles represents his ironic critique on the failure of the communist project and may even betray his own nostalgia for a time of idealism and activism.
"In my view, the central point I want to express in the Great Criticism series is the ideological antagonism that exists between western culture and socialist ideology. The significance of this antagonism has more to do with issues in cultural studies than simply art in and of itself" (Wang Guangyi quoted in Wang Guangyi, Timezone 8, Hong Kong, 2002, p. 28).