Lot 71
  • 71

Sui Jianguo

120,000 - 180,000 USD
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  • Sui Jianguo
  • Legacy Mantle
  • aluminum
  • 58 by 43 by 34 in. 147.3 by 109.2 by 86.3 cm.
  • Executed in 2000.


Acquired by the present owner directly from the artist

Catalogue Note

A Master’s graduate of the Central Academy of Fine Arts (1989), Sui Jianguo (b. 1956) is now the chair of the Academy’s Sculpture Department and among the finest dedicated sculptors of contemporary China.  His wide-ranging body of work began with weighty abstract sculptures of stone and iron in the 1980s, but it is his more recent work that has become an iconic presence in Chinese contemporary art.  His Legacy Mantle series in particular has established his reputation and provides a succinct sculptural formulation of the experience of contemporary China. 

Begun in 1997, Sui’s Legacy Mantle works take the form of a full-bodied but empty, self-supporting Mao jacket.  Conceived both in groups and individually, the works range in size (the largest standing more than two meters high), fabrication material (from rubber to fiberglass to bronze), and color (dull, leaden grays to lush, eye-poppers like lemon, lime, and orange).  The work on offer (Lot 71), one from an edition of six, stands 1.6 meters high and was cast in aluminum from a fiberglass mould in 2002.

Given the global recognition of the iconic Mao suit as signifier of things Chinese, the popularity of Mao’s image in recent Chinese art, and the strangely compelling simplicity of Sui’s sculptural appropriation, the Legacy Mantle works are easily misread as simple image repetition.  The buttons and surface details that differ from one work to the next are probably not the first things one observes about the sculptures.  Nor, perhaps, do many viewers consider that the resonance and meaning of a bronze Mao jacket standing several meters high in a public park is substantially different from that of a two-foot fiberglass model fabricated in fuchsia and displayed in an art gallery.  The confrontation with a Mao jacket – Sui’s or otherwise – often stops at the point of recognition and reference.  But in some sense, the experience of overlooking through over-recognition is the idea to which Sui’s sculpture gives form. 

The legacy of Mao is a mantle covering contemporary China, a cloak worn in some manner by all, whether individually recognized or not.  Contemporary Chinese wear this metaphorical jacket, and even those who castigate the past and its icons are a part of this legacy – and take comfort from time to time in the nostalgic warmth of this metaphorical jacket – as the legacy, too, is a part of them.  Sui’s jackets are hollow, like much of the rhetoric of the Maoist past; the legacy the art works ultimately reference, however, lives beneath the jackets and in the spirits of hundreds of millions.  But the sculptures are neither tributary nor redemptive, no more a celebratory reclamation project than are Sui’s toy dinosaurs, grown massive in sync with China’s booming export economy.  Like other artists of his generation, Sui is tight-lipped when it comes to voicing an opinion on the state of affairs; he is content to relate, simply and succinctly, just how things are. 

There is therefore a pronounced ambiguity – indeed, a strategic double entendre – in Sui’s empty jackets.  They offer a reading of history that is at once respectfully referential and critically observant:  respectful in that the iconic form might easily serve its commemorative function as appropriate public sculpture; critical in that the form embodies the emptiness and failure of the same rigidly conformist collectivism that it might at other times be read as commemorating.  This ambiguity is the genius of Legacy Mantle as a work of art.  To the extent the Legacy Mantle is a monument, however, it celebrates the present rather than the past – and a contemporary experience that remembers but moves beyond the individual with whose name its form is synonymous.