Gu Dexin represents one of the more ambiguous figures of contemporary art in China: having lost interest very early on in the exercises in painting theory so popular with the avant-garde of the '85 New Wave, he pioneered the turn away from romantic humanism toward the analytical, but refuses to offer interpretation or explication of his own work. Gu also anticipated the interest in bodily sensation, biological perception, and animal sexuality long before it came to a head in the latter half of the 1990s, producing very early on organic forms in plastic that were eventually placed with the materials for which he is best known—raw meat, overripe fruit, and other decaying materials sorted into massive arrays of scale and quantity, overpowering the audience in a variety of senses. Momentarily shocking and undeniably grotesque, such installations are typically impermanent and untitled in rejection of the structures of bureaucratic control that tend to define the institutions of art.
Despite his theoretical interests with the "Tactile Sensations" and "New Analysts" groups, Gu Dexin never took part in the transition to the cold and inhuman painting of the second portion of the 1980s—that of Shu Qun, Zhang Peili, Wang Guangyi, and others—that preceded the anti-humanism of the following decade; whereas even his installations juxtaposed industrial material with novel organic forms, his painting belongs to a trajectory of its own. A03 (Lot 833), for example, sits squarely within the scope of the stylistic experiments of its era in terms of borrowing from incongruous and discontinuous moments of available art historical resources. Lacking the academic training of his peers, however, Gu evinces an affinity with modernism that exists visually outside of its antecedents in Impressionism and beyond. The figure presented here, an androgynous member of the emergent urban intellectual class, is characterized by shriveled facial features and elongated but stiffly contorted hands. Surrounded by a halo of radiance that echoes the shadowy folds of skin and clothing alike, this being remains aloof.
In another canvas from the same year entitled B10 (Lot 832), Gu Dexin evidently draws much more fully on the visual narratives of Cubism. Another figure, similarly disembodied and torn from its social environment, now also deprived of all reactions or displays of affect, shields its face from view as it perches one leg on a raised pedestal. A sense of movement stems from the parallel movements of musculature, depicted like so many frames of film in the straight lines of the not-quitehuman body, and lighting, which again illuminates the edges of the body and the architecture of the space indiscriminately. As much as the use of light and line speaks to the architectures of control that would characterize the artist's later body of work, this particular deployment remains fundamentally romantic in its celebration of the burdened human form.
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