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PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED DANISH COLLECTION

Zeng Fanzhi
MASK SERIES NO. 26
Estimate
1,200,0001,500,000
LOT SOLD. 1,202,500 GBP
JUMP TO LOT
40

PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED DANISH COLLECTION

Zeng Fanzhi
MASK SERIES NO. 26
Estimate
1,200,0001,500,000
LOT SOLD. 1,202,500 GBP
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

|
London

Zeng Fanzhi
B.1964
MASK SERIES NO. 26
signed in Pinyin and dated 95
oil on canvas
200 by 180cm.; 78 3/4 by 70 7/8 in.
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Provenance

Galerie Gerard Pilzer, Paris

Private Collection

Sale: Christie’s, New York, Post-War and Contemporary Art, 13 November 2007, Lot 3

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner

Exhibited

Odense, Funen Art Museum, Eye Opener, 2011

Literature

Zeng Fanzhi 1993 - 1998, Beijing 1998, p. 44-45, illustrated in colour

P. Li and H. Lijun, Eds., I/We: The Painting of Zeng Fanzhi, 1993 - 2003, Shenzhen 2003, p. 42, illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

Executed in 1995, Mask Series No. 26 is a significant early example from Zeng Fanzhi’s eponymous series, one of the most instantly recognisable manifestations of China’s Avant-Garde to have been created over the past two decades. Begun in 1994, the Mask Series encapsulates the artist’s primary concerns and ideals whilst reflecting the wider socio-cultural background that led to its genesis, arguably standing as a critical signification of China’s recent history. The two subjects of Mask Series No. 26 occupy the centre of an otherwise oddly empty composition; seated on a curious form of ‘seat’ that seems to hover in mid-air. Though smartly dressed in Western attire, their bare feet - almost flayed in appearance - indicate that assimilation into occidental mores has not been fully achieved. Their identical masks fail to conceal the expressions of anguish that appear to rent their faces almost asunder: unlike many other works within the Masks Series, in which the masks instil a form of uniform blandness on the subjects, the figures within Mask Series No. 26 seem caught in the grip of disturbing emotion. Speaking of the background to the Mask Series, Zeng Fanzhi declared that: “When I was working on the Mask Series, I was quite often expressing my inner feelings. I’m not saying that it’s me in every painting, but every one of them tells a story from my past…” (the artist cited in: an interview with Edmund Lee, Time Out Hong Kong, 12 October 2011, n.p.). The paintings of the Mask Series are thus imbued with a deeply personal sensibility which reflects the particular experiences of the artist during this period.

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.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London