Galerie Loft, Paris and Hong Kong
Acquired by the present owner from the above
Brazil, São Paulo, Museu de Arte de Brasília, China- Contemporary Art, 2002, p. 150
Portugal, Lisbon, Culturgest Galleries 1 and 2, Contemporary Chinese Art, Subversion and Poetry, 2003
France, Beziers, Espace Culturel Paul Riquet, Et Moi, Et Moi Et Moi...Portraits Chinois, 11 Jun - 18 July 2004, p. 48
Xie Nanxing is remarkable for his position outside of the easy iconography of much of the mainland Chinese painting of his era, working instead in a highly technical, referential, and theoretically nuanced mode that abolishes the narrative quality of painting as an established studio practice in favor of the exploration of the role of the image in painting as a medium. Having participated in public exhibitions including "Documenta" (2007), the "Shanghai Biennale" (2000), and the "Venice Biennale" (1999), his work recognizably shares more in common with the trajectories of such international discourses of image production and circulation than with the Southwestern regional scene from which he emerged. Over the past two decades Xie has gradually eliminated narrative from his work, latching onto fragments of imagery derived from screen- and frame-based apparatuses that his medium of oil on canvas rhetorically denies in its insistence on a certain textural depth. Throughout this process the artist has engaged in an abstraction of content that turns at times to an abstraction of the image itself, assisted by the inclusion of textual elements that draw parallels between painting and writing; in this body of work, however, meaning is contained in an accidental gesture, and the viewer must actively enter and discover the image—even when the artist has deprived his audience of any visual temptation.
The representational canvas Family Theme: Quartet No. 3 (Interior Bathroom) (Lot 891), drawn from the Family series, finds Xie Nanxing in the early stages of this programmatic transition: in the center of a square frame contorted by a skewed fisheye perspective that bubbles inward away from the point of view of the viewer, a nude and misshapen male figure sits on a toilet, his face obscured by a camera pointed directly out of the frame. The figure is placed within an environment apparently lifted from the pages of hooligan literature that characterized so much aesthetic output of the early 1990s, here surrounded by wooden boxes, broken pipes, water stains, plastic tubing, buckets, and other features, all of which remain some distance away from the figure itself. This positioning of negative space serves to emphasize the contrived musculature of the male body, a common focus of the era that prevents the composition from becoming lost in the anti-humanist pathos of the general scene; indeed, the primary aesthetic reference appears to be the postmodernist fascination with reflection, mirroring, and lens-based distortion, a technical effect on the periphery of the raw emotional content of this piece that would later become the major thrust of the artist's work. There also emerges here a particular interest in the intentional misrepresentation of the subject of the composition, a desire that becomes sublimated in the lens-screen paradigm that takes over later work. In this case it is aided by the scatological or violent content shared throughout the series, contributing also to the unmistakably misanthropic tone of this specific piece.
Self-portrait as Sebastian (Lot 892), a portion of the Ten Self Portraits series, points to a key moment of transition in Xie Nanxing's practice as the representational human form begins to recede for the first time into the pictorial density of environmental abstraction. A partially nude male figure leans up and outward toward the viewer, his face and torso defined largely by a white glare or glow that allows these features to penetrate the monochromatic blue background. In this series Xie employs for the first time what would go on to be his key artistic strategy: a composition that implicitly forces the viewer to independently unveil the hidden and potentially nonexistent narrative. Here the subject matter, intentionally obscured, is purportedly the figure of the artist himself, in light of the title perhaps drawing on the long tradition in European painting of the depiction of St. Sebastian, martyred for his faith, in a prostrate position made captive and shot with arrows. The picture plane in Xie's work is marred by several white blemishes that could stand in for such violence, lending themselves also to the tension between surface and depth of field that gestures toward the blur paintings of Gerhard Richter, a singular influence over this particular body of work. At this early juncture in his practice the artist presents his own figure as faded and emasculated, hinting at the techniques of obfuscation he might later deploy in order to cover, diminish, and otherwise overcome contextual meaning in the visual riddles of his mature work.
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