Sale: Christie’s, New York, Post-War and Contemporary Art, 13 November 2007, Lot 3
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
P. Li and H. Lijun, Eds., I/We: The Painting of Zeng Fanzhi, 1993 - 2003, Shenzhen 2003, p. 42, illustrated in colour
Born in 1964, Zeng Fanzhi was raised during the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, and originally trained in the prescribed Socialist Realism style. The impact of his upbringing in the midst of cultural, political and social turmoil has been highly significant in driving the direction of Zeng Fanzhi’s painting, as well as that of other artists of the same background: “The impact of the Cultural Revolution has been huge for us - it has contributed to the complicated milieu that our generation grew up in. As artists, we have too many experiences to serve as our creative inspirations” (the artist cited in: Ibid., n.p.). The Mask Series reflects the sense of anonymous conformity to the dictates of Chairman Mao that would have dominated Zeng Fanzhi’s youth and that of his compatriots: although the 1980s and 1990s saw growing relaxation of political repression and increasing awareness of Western consumer goods and behaviour, the subjects of Mask Series No. 26 still feel compelled to try and shield their true selves as though to counteract any sense of individualisation.
Zeng Fanzhi moved to Beijing in 1993, where his painting undertook a change in direction and the artist’s painting flourished in a more culturally permissive environment. At that time, Beijing was undergoing a momentous transformation: following the reform changes introduced by Deng Xiaoping, the city became a major commercial hub and witnessed a significant influx of economic migrants from poorer regions of the country, particularly rural areas, seeking production line jobs in the burgeoning electronics industry. Zeng Fanzhi perceived a faceless anonymity in the myriad inhabitants of the bustling city, which acted as a key source of inspiration for the genesis of the Mask Series, whilst incorporating the feelings of isolation and loneliness the artist experienced on first moving to the city. The inclusion of Western dress within the Mask Series was also directly influenced by the appearance of workers and officials living in the city: “In the mid-‘90s, China was transforming very fast. Chinese officials started wearing suits and ties… Everybody wanted to look good, but it also looked a bit fake. I felt they wanted to change themselves on the surface, and these are the feelings that I represented in the earlier Mask series” (the artist, cited in: Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop, ‘Zeng Fanzhi: Amid change, the art of isolation,’ The New York Times, 3 May 2007, n.p.). Ultimately, Mask Series No. 26 effectively distils these complex influences to create a powerful work that represents the story of an entire generation caught in the spiritual vacuum of modernisation and commercialisation.
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