Lot 1014
  • 1014

Zhan Wang

2,400,000 - 4,000,000 HKD
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  • Zhan Wang
  • Artificial Rock Series
  • stainless steel
Signed in Chinese, numbered 1/1 and dated 2006


Some minor rusting at the bottom of the sculpture, and may benefit from cleaning by a professional restorer. Otherwise, it is 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

Please note that this work is unique


Once upon a time in every siheyuan (Chinese quadrangle houses), scholar's rocks large and small would deck the atriums and the courtyards. Much like a classical Chinese painting, they were havens for spiritual escape, for emotional projection. Together, the assembly of scholar's rocks forms a rock garden, boasting layers and undulations of the foliage of trees and ridges of mountains. Ambling amongst the rocks, it would feel as if one were trekking the landscapes depicted so ethereally and skillfully by the lofty literati of classical China. Predicaments and hurdles in life can always be dissolved in the midst of nature. The elusive rock garden begets the understanding of existential philosophy, according to the ancients. Pressing modernization and rapid urbanization overcame Beijing starting in the 1990s, stripping away and rendering obsolete these spaces that used to accommodate the said rock gardens. In 1995, artist Zhan Wang installed his very first Artificial Rock, made of stainless steel and fashioned into a hollow scholar's rock, in the West Station of the Beijing Railway. He explains, "it is simultaneously a replication and an transformation of the naturally occurring scholar's rock, it is an object that will hopefully summon aspirations and encourage dreams." Artificial Rock Series constitutes a dialogue between the artist and the modernizing processes of the Chinese nation. It is a conceptual sculpture. Zhan Wang applies sheets of stainless steel onto an actual scholar's rock and with the aid of tools, bends and moulds the layer so to completely "copy" its surface. The rock is eventually extracted and the metal pieces welded together for a final polishing. In a metropolitan rife with information, fraught with change and caught in between old and new, Artificial Rock Series endeavours to connect the past with the present, modify tradition and navigate the realm of yin and yang. Captured on the reflective surface is a visual testament to the state of modern China. Divergent in dimensions as well as configuration, the two pieces offered this season are fine examples.

Zhan Wang's early academic training has built for him a robust foundation in the basics of Realism. He subsequently worked at a jade work factory, where he acquired crafting techniques. Crafts, however, could not satisfy the artist, who had previously been exposed to Western art. At the Central Academy of Fine Art, Zhan Wang studied at the Department of Sculpture at a time when concept was de-emphasized and dexterity reigned high. This, in turn, inflated his creative impulses and spurred a series of experimental undertakings. Through rigorously instructed in the intricacies of sculpting, he did not limit himself to a single category nor medium, dabbling in installation art, performance art, etc. "Artists must always exercise their hands as much as their minds...to enter through concept is to explore your capacity for thought...pose some questions, break some ground, do some thinking, then make some sculptures." His conceptual sculptures are a result of "an organic fusion of concept and matter, it is one single entity that cannot be separated." They are also "to illuminate the dialectic behind the relationship between materials, the insertion of Chinese traditional culture, just as how postmodernism marries itself seamlessly with contemporary Chinese society, in that there are both accidental and inevitable." Artificial Rock Series is his elegant solution to what conceptual sculpture should be.

The fervent urbanizing forces that have swept across the city of Beijing is a frequent theme in the work of Zhan Wang. Prior to Artificial Rock Series, the artist engaged in a performance in 1994, Ruin Cleaning Project. It took place inside a neoclassical building, with influences from both the East and the West but unfortunately was about to be torn down by a property developer, in the commercial district of Wangfujing in Beijing. In the remaining half of house not yet demolished, the artist took the tiles from the rubble and cleaned them. On the remaining halves of door frames, brick chasms and dilapidated walls, he applied a new layer of paint. Unfortunately, the fate of destruction cannot be escaped and on the night of the performance, bulldozers were already being mobilized. Zhan Wang ritualized act is the final shrouding of the edifice before its ending chapter, imparting great dignity and offering his last respects as it slowly disappeared into oblivion.

Zhan Wang embarked on Artificial Rock Series after this performance. As mentioned above, the installation at the West Station of Beijing Railway was the prototype. The series was extremely well-received and propelled the artist to international status, rendering his artificial rocks his most representative and most significant creations to date. Zhan Wang proceeded to implement Beyond Twelve Nautical Miles: Floating Rock Drifts On The Open Sea, a project where he tossed large stainless steel rocks, stuffed with styrofoam, in bodies of water under the jurisdiction of no country, and allows them to float freely about.

The two works from the Artificial Rock Series on offer exhibits the requisite physical attributes of an original scholar's rock, in all its gnarly, convoluted splendor. Artificial Rock Series (Lot 1014) is a large specimen intended for outdoors. Standing 2.86m tall, the work is unique. The upper section is a symphony of arcs, charged with an air of authority and majesticism. The lower, on the other hand, betrays signs of natural corrosion. At the core of the sculpture are two gaping voids, the distinct characteristic that lends a scholar's rock its exalted spirit. Artificial Rock Series No. 97 (Lot 1013) is derived from the silhouette of a smaller scholar's rock and matched with a wooden stand specially designed by the artist. Exquisite in its size and refined in its shape, the contours twist and turn in unexpected ways. The same two abysses can be found on this work—this time on a smaller scale, manifested in a different formation and thus impossibly delightful. Much like a mirror, Artificial Rock Series reflects and refracts the socio-cultural condition of contemporary China.