Lot 1117
  • 1117

Wang Jianwei

50,000 - 120,000 HKD
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  • Wang Jianwei
  • Spider
  • DVD Video (NTSC)

signed in Chinese and pinyin, titled in Chinese and English and dated 2004

This work is number one from an edition of eight.


Denmark, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Made in China: Works from the Estella Collection, March - August 2007, fig. 74
Jerusalem, The Israel Museum, Made in China: Contemporary Chinese Art at the Israel Museum, September 2007 - March 2008 


Generally in good condition.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Wang Jianwei's career has walked the boundaries where art meets sociology, architecture, and science with an intelligence and vigor rarely found in Chinese contemporary art. With extended works that often resemble experiments or studies more than pieces of art in the narrow sense, he has earned a well-deserved reputation as one of the leading intellectuals on the Beijing scene. Since beginning his adulthood as a soldier and later entering the Chengdu Painting Institute as a stores clerk, Wang Jianwei has come to understand the scale on which the Chinese state works to inculcate its various ideologies. In one formative experience, a painting of his was selected for the National Art Exhibition of 1984, going on to win first prize in its category. The painting was nearly barred from the exhibition by his superiors at the Chengdu Institute, who saw him as an employee and not an official artist; upon winning such high honors, Wang was treated differently by his colleagues, and yet this only confirmed for him the conformity and unwillingness to think independently characteristic of the state art system.

Wang Jianwei would progress in the nineties through a series of paintings which grew out of long hours spent observing the social dynamics of Chengdu's many teahouses through another deeply influenced by the style of Francis Bacon. But it was another sort of more experimental work that captured his passion. In Document (1992) he used scientific equipment to blend printed official texts on Chinese economics to create a "solution" to the nation's problems. It was an absurdist gesture, albeit hidden behind a veneer of rigor and method. Projects such as another giant pseudo-scientific apparatus in Incident-Process*State (1993) and a multi-faceted program of agricultural research and documentation of a year's barley crop in Circulation: Sowing and Harvesting (1993) turned his experimental impulse into the basis of his artistic practice.

He moved into video with a sprawling project entitled Living Elsewhere in 1998. For this work he spent an entire year tracking the peasant families living in an abandoned half-built luxury villa complex on the outskirts of Chengdu. (The real estate developer had gone bankrupt when it was discovered that these expensive homes were in the flight path of the new Chengdu airport, and so they remained concrete shells, inhabited by farmers and their pigs.) Wang recorded over sixty hours of footage of the everyday lives of these ordinary Chinese.

In one sense, the verité of Living Elsewhere is the precedent for Wang's later, extremely stylized video works, of which the present Spider (Lot 1117) is the classic example. In this extremely tight composition, just over eight minutes long, Wang Jianwei cycles through many of the themes that have concerned him throughout his long career. In the opening scene, four ominous figures wearing Zhongshan suits and faceless white masks sit around a table in a dark room, ingesting pills one by one to a background of tense electronic music. It is unclear who these figures are intended to represent, but their anonymity and uniformity seems to suggest something about state power. Are they the indoctrinators or the indoctrinated? Do the pills they consume produce new fantasies or simply script them into existing dynamics? In the second scene this "gang of four" appears again, alternately sitting up and standing down, masked and unmasked, in a row of office cubicles. Each member makes a trip to the window and looks out onto a construction site below, at which point the video shifts to accelerated, spliced footage of workers building towers like the many erected in China's drive to urbanize. In the third scene a masked figure opens the door to a conference room while two others smoke and answer a phone in a nearby office, alternately shaking hands and staring at the camera. In another room, a figure is seated alone behind a desk, peeling petals from a desiccated rose and arranging them in a row as he pulls on a cigarette. In the work's final scene, the four figures appear from behind four separate doors, walking robotically down a dimly lit hallway.

Realized in 2004, Spider marks the moment when Wang Jianwei's creative energies shifted in the direction of time-based work. It can easily be seen in the same light as a number of experimental theater works he completed in the surrounding few years. And it is these productions—heady explorations where the stage and the exhibition hall converge in swirls of action, dialogue, and display—for which Wang Jianwei has now become best known.