Lot 1087
  • 1087

Wang Xingwei

2,500,000 - 3,500,000 HKD
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Wang Xingwei
  • To Hurt
  • oil on canvas
signed in Chinese and dated 1994


Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing
Acquired by the present owner from the above


China, Beijing, Central Academy of Fine Art Gallery, Put to Trial, 1994
China, Beijing, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Wang Xingwei, 19 May - 18 August, 2013, p. 82


Wang Xingwei Collection, Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing, China, 2005, front cover


This work is generally in good condition. There are areas of flecks to the black impasto along the top and right edges, with the most obvious being on the mid-right edge which measures approximately 3 cm. There are hairline craquelures throughout the work mostly along the top and bottom edges. Having examined the work under ultraviolet light, there appears to be no evidence of restoration.
"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

The Value of Prototypes
Wang Xingwei

To Hurt (Lot 1087) is Wang Xingwei’s first work that demonstrates his position within contemporary art, while his previous works belong to an older painting system. Through the present piece, the artist has established new principles and opened up a new domain in his artistic journey. While To Hurt maintains certain connections with the past, as exemplified in its interest in events and scenes, it is also distinctly different from the artist’s previous works. To an even greater extent, it relates to the artist’s subsequent personal life, as well as his body of work in connection with art history. Nevertheless, upon closer examination, this work appears to be unique in this particular stage of the artist’s creative career.

Observing the physical form and structural relationship between the two figures in the painting, particularly in the treatment of the human body, one can see that the artist has incorporated influences from medieval European and early Renaissance art. Under the theme of “hurt”, the perpetrator’s suit has become a necessary tool in the act of violence. This also corresponds to the relationship formed by clothed and naked figures in European painting traditions. The image of the clothed figure includes elements of the artist’s self-portrait, this is related to the ‘performance placement’ nature of the artist’s subsequent several series of work. The background is formed by a thick black layer of material, in order to create a viscous effect, the unconventional medium of asphalt was used. In his later works such as All Happy Families are Alike, a small bucket filled with asphalt and a stirring stick appear in the picture. These are the same tools used to create the black background of the present piece, and the stick reminds the viewer of the highly transparent object on the top right hand corner of the present piece. The space formed by this object, together with a purplish-grey arc, adds a surrealist flavour to the picture.

In 1994, Wang Xingwei participated in a group exhibition curated by Gu Zhenqing. Entitled Put to Trial, the exhibition included works by four young artists from Shenyang and it was held at the gallery of the Central Academy of Fine Art Museum in Wangfujing, Beijing. Executed in the same year, the present lot by Wang Xingwei was a highlight at the exhibition. For that exhibition, Wang Xingwei created a special set– he surrounded the painting with a dark red velvet valance to create a surreal effect and a kind of awkwardness. Within the curtain, he included a light box with a pharmacy advertisement, to introduce a comical and satirical element into how the work was displayed. This was not because the young artist simply wanted to try his hand at combining painting and installation art. It was more directly out of his interest at the time in stage effects and virtual environments. Elements of performance and stage simulation can also be perceived in other works of his at the exhibition, such as the simulation of a photography studio in Dawn and the display of a paradoxical theatrical nature in All Happy Families are Alike previously mentioned.

The subject of To Hurt is related to an earlier triptych by the artist. Depicting young people in gang fights, the triptych makes use of a large number of combinations of different scenes and people, to create an atmosphere in which violence and youth subculture were weaved together, reflecting its time and social background. Although the images are somewhat exaggerated, the real focus is an interpretation and distillation of people’s postures and appearances, with special attention paid to the relationship between different combinations of people. Such a composition approach is in line with the “subject-based” format developed since the 1930s, particularly after 1949, which placed an emphasis on the classical and poignant nature of works that originate and go beyond real life. To Hurt keeps a great distance from such a format. In contrast, it reveals to the viewer a real close-up of a scene, a scene of which no social meaning is spelled out. Other than the attire of the perpetrator, no suggestive information has been included. Without a context and social environment, the cause and effect of the incident is rather “irresponsibly” left to the viewer’s speculation, making it impossible for any “moralistic implication” to be inferred. As a result, literal interpretation of social meaning and judgements of social value have been avoided. On a different but relevant level, the work does not express the “sense of reality” of the event itself, but rather, through a very special artistic language, a sense of strangeness is created, a sense of model-like virtual environment and stage performance. Such a strangeness comes from the application of fine white stripes to extend, depict and organise the images, such that the texture of the clothing and the human body appear to be bizarre and unrealistic, like smooth plastic or acrylic. From the outside, the event is presented directly and excitingly, delivering a strong impact. The viewer’s senses, upon such a powerful impact, begin to become sensitive to the distance between such an interpretation and the ordinary “real events”. In characterisation and composition, the artist deliberately made use of an excessively expressive technique to create an impression of a model or a stage performance, and to create an uncertainty specified by its “reappearance”.  The independent nature of painting as a format and medium unknowingly floats to the surface, making the viewer aware that such an expression is the result of a format quotation and event interpretation unique to painting.

In this sense, To Hurt can be seen as a landmark piece that marks Wang Xingwei’s entrance into contemporary art. In the artist’s system, the present piece is only a naked form of violence itself, it is a prototype, and the viewer does not need to associate and make judgement from specific social background and ideology. The prototype is the original meaning. Such is true whether in ancient or modern times, in China or overseas. It is regular, not unique, and does not need to be assigned to a specific time and place. Plastic Art can create a prototype and rely on it to generate independent artistic value beyond the social meaning of the event referred to by the prototype. Techniques such as virtual simulation, borrowing, role-playing and montaging were employed by the artist to avoid a direct exchange between social and artistic values. This is a principle long held by Wang Xingwei, and also a principle that first emerged in the present work. His later works cover a diversity of topics and formats, such as domestic violence, hostages in shackles, the corpse of a woman being dragged from the bushes in a park, Duchamp and Einstein facing a nuclear explosion, the sudden death of Ximen Qing, eight women throwing themselves into a river, a fierce nurse…all of these makes use of the construction of a prototype, or a prototype based on an event to strengthen the painting into a core value, clearing the painting of interference from social values through juxtaposition and segmentation. Through examining his artistic journey in the subsequent two decades, the different series of works starting from To Hurt create witty and humorous juxtapositions and segmentation of forms, objects, events and expressions, to reassemble different bodies of recognition systems, so as to destroy the obsession with inflexible and singular understanding of reality. Using artificial factors, performance and virtual simulation as starting points, the artist utilises reality that is being imitated, resulting in the overlapping of reality, multiple meanings, double meanings, and meanings crossing over into each other. Such features are exactly what contemporary society and culture possess.