Lot 1034
  • 1034

Wang Xingwei

Estimate
1,500,000 - 2,500,000 HKD
Sold
9,400,000 HKD
bidding is closed

Description

  • Wang Xingwei
  • Blind
  • oil on canvas
executed in 1996, framed

Provenance

Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong
Acquired by the present owner from the above

Exhibited

UK, Edinburgh, The Fruitmarket Gallery, Reckoning with the Past: Contemporary Chinese Painting, 3 August - 28 September, 1996, p. 47
France, Paris, Espace Cardin, Paris-Pékin, 5-28 October, 2002, p.199
China, Beijing, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Our Future: The Guy & Myriam Ullens Foundation Collection, 19 July - 12 October, 2008, pp. 132-133
China, Beijing, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Wang Xingwei, 19 May - 18 August, 2013, p. 33

Literature

Wang Xingwei Collection, Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing, China, 2005, unpaginated

Catalogue Note

Enlightenment and Blindness
Wang Xingwei

The significance of Wang Xingwei’s works in the contemporary context lies in their multifaceted nature. Doubt, proactive reflexivity, and persistent criticality are the qualities that he possesses as a contemporary artist. He maintains an open attitude towards art even as he insists on the expressivity of painting. In a career spanning over two decades, he has dazzled viewers with changes in form and grammar. Wang Xingwei draws broadly from neutral techniques and vocabulary, society and everyday life, history and art history, allowing these elements to mix and fuse, while at the same time injecting into them humour and explorations of the formal language of painting. His works deconstruct and reconstitute different systems of knowledge, thereby breaking entrenched monopolies on and monomaniac obsessions with reality. Viewers can sense Wang’s challenge towards intellectual fixations and staid notions of progress. His way of restoring art to its original nature is to pay homage to the classical masters in a caustically passionate and often comedic tone. With his solid intellectual foundation, Wang Xingwei launches into further elaborations of the painting medium and experiments committedly with painterly expression, giving painting independent value. He does not aim at defining “bad painting,” but rather to expand the boundaries of “good painting.” To label his works “conceptual paintings” is to foolishly stereotype them by style.

In the 1990’s, Wang Xingwei created a series of paintings related to art history. Unlike his early works, which are concerned with quotidian existence, these paintings persistently employ fictive scenes and role playing. More importantly, they refer to works and events in Chinese and Western art history and relate very strongly to the value system of contemporary Chinese art. Many of these paintings transpose the “man wearing a yellow shirt,” an avatar of Wang Xingwei himself, into classical contexts. They point to the nature of art and culture and expose the ideological rifts and cultural mismatches in China, soon after its economic liberalization, engendered by the influx of international contemporary art.

Wang Xingwei had moved from Shenyang to Haicheng, where his wife lived, for over three years when he created these works. In them he appears repeatedly in the form of a roleplaying avatar, wearing a yellow shirt, grey pants, with a green keychain string specific to that era dangling off his right waist, and occasionally also wearing a blazer that matches the pants. This outfit is typical of ordinary citizens in “development countries”—resulting from an inchoate desire for dress that signalled Westernness and thus modernity, created cheaply and with low-quality materials for a mass market. People who dressed like this were the majority. Although lowly, they yearned for upward mobility. They were responsible for their actions and hopeful about the future. Blind (Lot 1034) was a sister work to The Oriental Way: The Road to Anyuan: both feature similar protagonists centrally, even iconically, placed in similar natural environments, but with their backs facing the viewer. Derived from the cloth umbrella in Oriental Way, the pink umbrella in Blind becomes the blind person’s staff. Blind originated in two works by the German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich. The pine-studded peaks and sunset in the far background and the dramatic lighting in Blind are both transposed from Friedrich’s Cross in the Mountains of 1808. Yet there is no cross in Blind, which erases the clear religious significance of the original. At the same time, the protagonist’s pose and surroundings recall another work by Friedrich, Wanderer above the Sea of Fog of 1818. In the latter, a man resembling Friedrich himself, with his back towards the viewer, stands on a mountaintop with a staff in his hand and confronts a sea of clouds and billowing peaks in the distance. A Romantic under the influence of Enlightenment thought, Friedrich painted in a technically pure and emotionally rich manner; his landscapes, often charged with metaphorical significance and spiritual power, are beloved by many Chinese artists. Wang Xingwei aside, other contemporary Chinese artists have also incorporated Friedrich’s paintings into their works. Perpetuating the condition of Wang Xingwei’s earlier works, Blind has a conscientious and regimented composition. Wang did a lot of studies of the pose, folds in clothing, and perspective, conceptualized a lot of material, and made a sketch that included the pink umbrella, something like which the artist probably owned in real life at the time. The rendition of the protagonist is similar the flashlight effect of his earlier works, with a staged and unreal quality. Without any obvious humorous or satirical elements, Blind rather has a slightly pretentious lofty tone that is rare among Wang’s works. The yellow colour of the shirt may have been motivated by Wang’s intention to create a uniform for his avatar, as seen in his subsequent paintings like In Arcadia, Doubtful Person, and Not 100%. At the same time, yellow also creates a stark contrast with the classically-derived composition.

The different figure and treatment of his physical context in Blind are clearly significant. If we take a guess at this significance, it may go something like this: the protagonist, played by the painter himself, represents the pursuit of “artistic truth” or an ideal realm. He is a beginning in the world stage, young and confident and extremely persistent, acting boldly and even recklessly. Unfortunately, he has lost his ability to determine the right path. The truth sought shines and beckons on the other side, but he rushes on without direction. He is unaware that he is close to the abyss and that his rash behavior may bring about a catastrophe at any moment. The path to the ideal realm is difficult to find, but fortunately he has help in the form of a guide dog, which has already realized that the current path leads to a dead end. The dog refuses to follow the irrational, panicking protagonist and has begun to find the way on its own. As to how Wang Xingwei settled on these pictorial elements and their relations, we may never have a fully satisfactory answer; after all, a painting demands viewing and experience rather than interpretation. Yet, the tensions evoked above were indeed very much on Wang’s mind. Then a young artist, he was stymied in his artistic path by cultural conflicts and was urgently trying to find his own voice through his paintings. We may say that Wang Xingwei’s journey in painting began with these questions, which moreover have always been with him. He has consistently rejected art and himself in order to relocate himself artistically and to open new languages and creative modes. Blind is a precious early example of his practice, and the questions that it raises remained real and pressing for a long time: has China, in spite of its rich and historic traditional culture, lost its path? What do modernity or contemporaneity mean? How does the figure in the painting, being blind, know his destination, and how does he even conceptualize a destination? What role does the guide dog play, and is it reliable? What ultimately is the ideal realm, and is it worthy of pursuit? Of course, the work of art has no responsibility to provide answers to the questions it poses. Engendering paradoxes and inspiring meditations, it is realized through an appropriate artistic language in into self-sufficient being.
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