Hou Junming enrolled at college in 1984, a time that Taiwan underwent fundamental social changes in all aspects of life. The art circle was also affected. In search for inspiration from original folk and local culture, Hou followed his teacher to temples in southern Taiwan and visited artists with no academic training. Brainwashed by a fresh, irrational and simple approach to life, the 23-year-old artist then intentionally put aside his schooling and adopted a more spontaneous and narrative mode of creation.
His enlightening trips may have directly led to the composition of Paradise Lost in 1986, a set of seven coloured sketches, from which the current lot on offer New Paradise is derived. The subject matter refers to the overwhelming uprise of Feminism, which at the time sent shock waves through the then highly conservative society. Like most young men of his age, Hou was both afraid and confused by this phenomenon.
The topic of feminism was still a hot topic ten years later when the artist showed New Paradise, the set of seven massive woodcut prints, at the Taipei Biennale in 1996.
The first panel states the theme of the work, probably provocative and frightening to some: "No longer seeking guidance and consolation from man, the determined woman is filled with a fighting spirit. Rebellion is what makes life meaningful. The woman with a new-grown penis is overjoyed."
The change of title is interesting to observe. From Paradise Lost to New Paradise, does it imply that the artist's attitude has also changed with time? Could it be inferred that after a decade after the Feminist movement began, both males and females finally began to share and advanced society? Could it be possible that after the old paradise was lost, a new version of paradise was discovered?
Disregarding the artist's emphasis on his protagonists' sexual organs, critics were struck by Hou Junming's adoption of a traditional Chinese medium, "By using the format of woodblock print, Hou Chun-ming (Hou Junming) refers to a long tradition of mass education in popular culture. In using this traditional format, he also suggests that the audience he addresses is not at the progressive end of society. ... The visual power of these woodblock prints comes from their uncompromising moral pronouncements; they are simultaneously repulsive and alluring in their imaginative excesses."
New Paradise was made in only two editions, the coloured set with its highly contrasting vivid colours carrying Chinese printwork far beyond traditional black and white. It was later included in the influential grand exhibition curated by Gao Minglu: Inside Out: New Chinese Art, which toured museums across North America and to major galleries in Asia. The work conveys an accurate representation of Taiwanese contemporary art.
The set on offer, Lot 719, was kept consciously in its original black and white. The stark contrast of the two colours seems to exemplify the ferocious confrontation between the male and female bodies. The work has been in private ownership since its completion, and this is the first time it has been exposed to the public.
After the success of New Paradise, Hou submitted God Hates You (Lot 721) to the 1998 Taipei Biennale. The set of seven coloured prints was inspired by a religious slogan the artist saw pasted on a telegraph pole in the countryside. The seven panels cover subjects of self-esteem, obesity, infidelity, unhappiness, unemployment, poverty, and impotence. Displaying the artist's characteristic sarcasm, the work warns of the consequences of indulging in the Seven Sins.
. Chang Tsong-zung, The Moral of Desire, Power of the Word, Taiwan Museum of Art, 2000, p. 81
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