Similar works exhibited:
Chicago, The David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art, The Universtity of Chicago, Transience: Chinese Experimental Art at the End of the Twentieth Century, 1999, cover illustration
Venice, Venice Biennale, 1999, p. 188
Scheveningen, Museum Beelden aan Zee, Xianfeng ! Beeldhouwkunst van de Chinese avant-garde/Xianfeng! Chinese avant-garde sculpture, June - December 2005, pp. 92-93
Wang Jin’s widely exhibited series of works entitled A Chinese Dream was begun in 1996-97, the first made specifically for a Beijing auction (selling in 1997 for $10,000). In this exquisite body of work the artist reflects upon the persistence of traditional Chinese culture in the contemporary world, which often takes the form of the superficial and commercial posing as authenticity. Beautiful robes inspired by the past are reincarnated in contemporary PVC, their hollow, translucent forms like ghosts conjured by the artist for the sake of aesthetic contemplation.
The conceptual thrust of this fascinating artist’s work is easily recognized, and the Dream works have been widely embraced as beautiful contemporary art objects. The surface details of this body of work, however, are too frequently overlooked. In this work from 1999, the robe is covered with twelve phoenix and dragon medallions, each encircling a flaming pearl, all of which are meticulously stitched with nylon threads. The phoenix and dragon represent the empress and emperor, and such a robe – were it indeed of fabric and created in the past – would likely date to the late Qing court of the 19th century.
For a robe bearing Buddhist emblems, as Wang’s does, the attentive viewer would generally discover all eight images representing the Buddha’s body. In Wang’s robe we find only four: the endless knot, the conch shell, the vase, and the lotus flower. Wang’s robe features a detachable dragon collar – also unusual for robes of ‘this period,’ although the artist may have deployed this fetching sartorial flourish for the sake of covering the hanging mechanism for what is a surprisingly weighty object. As decorative motifs around the robe, one finds ruyi head clouds as well as dramatic lishui borders on the cuffs and hem (mountain and wave patterns, the latter crashing against crystalline rocks). While many robes in Wang’s series appear clear or bluish in tint, the body of the work on offer features a greenish hue, and the lishui borders are of a contrasting yellowish PVC, perfectly in keeping with the dramatic color contrasts of the traditional garments that inspired the artist. On the back of the work and running its length, Wang has included a pair of uncharacteristic flaps embroidered with archaistic dragon motifs; these were no doubt added to reinforce the plastic object, which is opened and closed on one side with three knotted buttons, as are the traditional garments.
It is perhaps unavoidable that ‘authentic’ traditional elements are missing in Wang’s work of the present, just as ‘inauthentic’ elements emerge to give the old form new meaning. Perhaps in the end Wang’s object lesson is not so much about the misuse and transformation of revered cultural signifiers of the past, but rather the inevitability of change itself with the passage of time.
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