Fang Lijun
SERIES 2, NO. 11
executed in 1991-1992, framed

oil on canvas

100 by 80 cm.; 39 3/8 by 31 1/2 in.
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Promarvo Collection, Europe
Private Collection, Europe


Germany, Berlin, Haus der Kulturen der Welt; The Netherlands, Kunsthal Rotterdam; UK, Oxford, The Museum of Modern Art; Denmark, Odense, Kunsthallen Brandts Kladefabrik, China Avant-garde, 1993-1994, p. 114 
Japan, Tokyo, The Japan Foundation Asia Center, Fang Lijun: Human Images in an Uncertain Age, 1996, p.44, pl. 23


Fang Lijun, Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House, China, 2001, pp. 96-97
Karen Smith, Nine Lives – The Birth of Avant-Garde Art in New China,
Scalo, Zurich, Switzerland, 2005, p. 157
Oriental Art Master No. 109, Today Art Museum, Beijing, China, 2006, p. 21 
Fang Lijun - Artist of Today, Hebei Education Press, China, 2006, cover
Collected Edition of Chinese Oil Painter Volume of Fang Lijun, Sichuan Fine Arts Publishing House, China, 2006, pp. 46-47
Chinese Artists of Today: Fang Lijun, Hebei Education Press, China, 2006, p. 103
Lü Peng, A History of Art In Twentieth Century China, Peking University Press, Beijing, China, 2006, p. 902
Karen Smith, Nine Lives - The Birth of Avant-Garde Art in New China -
The Updated Edition
, AW Asia, New York, USA, 2008, p. 161
Fang Lijun, Culture And Art Publishing House, Beijing, China, 2010, pp. 239 and 411
Lü Peng, A History of Art In Twentieth Century China, Edizioni Charta, Milan, Italy, 2010, p. 953


The bald hooligan.  The swimmer.  These are characters that have come to dominate artist Fang Lijun's creative output during the 1990's and have since been widely regarded as icons exclusively his.  Series 2, No. 11 (Lot 964) brings together the two motifs.  Series 2 was executed in 1991 and marks an early stage of maturation for the artist.  Fang brought works from this series to the 1993 Venice Biennale and Series 2, No. 2 was also made the cover of New York Times Magazine.  It was a time of unparalleled success for the artist.  In the foreground of Series 2, No. 11 is the back of the trademark bald head.  The man's gaze looks to be fixated on a girl swimming in the distance.  The artist's very first picture to feature the act of swimming, a theme that would proliferate and eventually gain widespread popularity, this work holds exceptional art historical importance.

Since the end of the 1980's, Fang Lijun dabbled with the motif of the bald headed character in sketches and drawings.  He always bestowed these characters with a mien of ennui and lethargy, gave them indistinct gestures with no discernable intent then placed them in alternative, enigmatic spaces.  Li Xianting called them "bald rascals" and proceeded to name Fang Lijun the primary proponent of "Cynical Realism."  In contrast to the current of resistance exhibited by most artists of the '85 Art Movement, an air of dissociation characterized Fang's imagery.  Unafraid to make a mockery of himself, he proposed as his solution to the desperate cry for self-help these very rascals.  Forces of urbanization and commercialization were sweeping across contemporary China.  Unequipped to adapt, subject to marginalization, wedged into a state of disorientation, members of society are left with no choice but to detach, to yawn and maybe even to chuckle.

During the four years he spent at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Fang Lijun received formal training in painting and he sought perfection in portraiture.  In preparation for his graduation exhibition in 1988, he went on an excursion with his classmates to Yunnan in search of inspiration and materials, yet he returned empty-handed.  Back on campus, he happened upon a photo album belonging to classmate Zhang Linhai.  It was filled with pictures of the local peasants from his hometown in Hebei.  Fang quickly produced a group of drawings based on these images.  The figures in these pictures were all bald-headed.  The works were exhibited at "China/Avant-Garde" the following year.  "The 'bald head' in my imagery has taken on a tenor of ambiguity: a soldier, a criminal, a great or an evil person, anybody can be bald...the only bald-headed man might stand out in a crowd but in throngs, that uniqueness disappears.  This paradigm resonates with me quite strongly, because to me that is precisely the condition of an individual as part of society. To be neglected, to be ignored, to be disregarded, these feelings ring true especially with the people of our cultural background," Fang Lijun has said at an interview with "Beijing Youth Daily" in 2006.

There is a total of seven works in Fang's Series 1, the monochromatic oils he exhibited at "China/Avant-Garde".  He worked in black and white for a very short period of time.  Soon after Series 1, over 1991 and 1992, he began to use deep blues, as well as bright pinks to portray the bald-headed man, this was the beginning of Series 2.  It is this initial group of works—propagated in publications ranging from the "China's New Art: Post-1989" catalogue to the cover of the New York Times Magazine and a feature in TIME Magazine, with which Fang made his name.  American art critic Andrew Solomon has construed "the yawn" as not a yawn, but the cry that would save China.  Whether or not Solomon has hyperbolized the significance of those gaping mouths, Fang Lijun as an artist has decisively found critical acclaim on the international stage. 

Succeeding the bald-headed man as a major motif was the water in Fang Lijun's imagery.  Commentators, over the years, generally attribute the first reference contained in his swimming figures to the famous images of Chairman Mao swimming across the Yangtze at Wuhan in 1966, the year the Cultural Revolution began.  But this sort of referentiality is too easy for the work of an artist who does not simply play on symbols. Rather, the swimmer is a metaphor for the human struggle in the most basic, visceral sense.  These swimmers are not drowning in some untamed ocean, but rather looking for a way to exist in the isolated suspension of the water.

Through the depiction of an apathetic, ruffian personage, Fang Lijun probes into the collective consciousness of Chinese people in the 1990's.  Their dreams have been quashed back in the 1980's and in utter disappointment, they only have yawns to offer.  They refuse to formulate opinions.  They decline to engage in reflection.   They have no words and no reactions to anything.  "Swimming" appeared for the very first time in Series 2, No. 11 and this canvas was also the first to present the theme together with the bald head.  A square comment on the sociological condition of contemporary China, the work is truly a piece of art history itself.