Lot 1009
  • 1009

Gu Wenda

2,000,000 - 3,000,000 HKD
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  • Gu Wenda
  • Exclamatory Word and Bound Human Innards Series: Ha! Ha! Ha! (triptych)
  • oil on canvas
signed in Pinyin, titled in Chinese and dated 12.20.86


Hatley Martin Gallery, San Francisco
Acquired by the present owner from the above

Catalogue Note

Transcending Cultural Barriers: The Artistic Journey of Gu Wenda

Gu Wenda became an important artist of the Chinese avant-garde during the ‘85 New Wave. At the same time, he was also a disciple of Lu Yanshao, the great master of classical Chinese painting, and he had a uniquely strong foundation in traditional fine arts. He took traditional Chinese aesthetics as his starting point, but also sought to subvert conventions. As a result, Gu Wenda is one of the most influential contemporary artists both in China and abroad. As far back as the 1980s, he had already earned a reputation as an artist with great “destructive power”, a power that is manifest in the way he “continuously draws close to and yet also continuously challenges both East and West”—while at the same time, he also “continuously rebels against himself”. Exclamatory Word and Bound Human Innards Series - Ha! Ha! Ha! (Lot 1009), a rare oil painting by the artist, was created in 1986. It distills the expressive power of Chinese script by capturing the brushwork of calligraphy. The painting, which Gu made for that year's Lausanne Wall Hanging Biennial, is an major work from the period prior to the artist’s relocation to the United States in 1987.

Born in Shanghai in 1955, Gu Wenda studied at the Shanghai School of Arts of Crafts. In 1979, he joined the first post-Cultural Revolution class of graduate students in the Chinese painting department of the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts, where he studied with the renowned landscape master Lu Yanshao. His solo exhibition at the Xi’an Artists Gallery in June 1986, the most important of his early exhibitions before he left China, centrally showcased his Pseudo-Character Series: “Gu Wenda’s rebellious spirit manifested itself in his rebellion against even himself. The headline characters of zheng, fan, cuo, lou, and such, written loosely with bunches of brushes, and the cinnabar-red circles and crosses infiltrate the calligraphy and painting; they are the most strongly self-rebellious elements of this exhibition.”1 In this exhibition, Gu Wenda’s artistic experiments had already gone very far away from two-dimensionality and begun to display characteristics of performance and installation. In September of the same year, he was invented by Varbanov Tapestry Research Center of the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts to create a series of works that he intended to submit to the International Biennial of Tapestry in Lausanne, Switzerland. Entitled Exclamatory Word and Bound Human Innards Series, this series includes such works (and exclamations) as Ha! Ha! Ha!, Ba! Ba! Ba!, Hei! Hei! Hei!, and Gu! Gu! Gu!. Gu Wenda writes these characters in black on canvases and entangle them with red abstract shapes evoking human organs. The characters all appear to be torn apart and deconstructed, making the already-nonsensical exclamations appear even more alienated from the everyday experience of language.

Chinese characters are the most important vessel of Gu Wenda's creativity, but as he sees it, characters are more than simply symbols of China. He once stated: “A Chinese artist who only uses Chinese symbols as a marketing strategy can never gain true success and recognition. Only by encompassing the contemporary issues common to China and the West can one possibly challenge both.” 2 From his explorations of painting of the early 1980’s, to his experiments with the written word, to his redefinition of ink art and the ink medium, Gu Wenda has proven, again and again, that an individual Chinese artist who uses cultural symbols native to China can also achieve universal relevance and resonance, and create a lasting impact on other groups of people. Such is ultimately the goal of Gu Wenda’s persistent transcendence of cultural barriers.

1 Liu Xiaochun, “Brief Notes on Wenda Gu’s First Solo Exhibition,” in Zhongguo meishu bao, issue 31, 1986

2 Wang Zhuan, “Cultural Translation and Cultural Misreading: A Conversation between Wang Zhuan and Wenda Gu,” in Meishu yanjiu, issue 1, 2006