Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Contemporary Chinese Art Autumn Sale at Sotheby's

Contemporary Chinese Art Autumn Sale at Sotheby's

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Yue Minjun, The Massacre at Chio. Est. HK$8–12 million. © Sotheby's Images.

HONG KONG.-Sotheby’s Hong Kong announces that the Contemporary Chinese Art Autumn Sale 2007 will be held on Sunday, 7th October 2007 at Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. The sale which comprises modern and contemporary sections will offer over 200 lots, estimated to bring HK$150-210 million.

Sotheby’s Hong Kong was the first international auction house to hold dedicated sales of contemporary Chinese art. Since its inaugural auction held in 2004, it has been presenting the most highly significant and important examples of this genre to the market. Ms. Evelyn Lin, Head of Contemporary Chinese Art Department, Sotheby’s China and Southeast Asia, said, “With the contemporary art market in the greater Asian diaspora experiencing continued growth, collectors have become more sophisticated, seeking works of unique historical and artistic value rather than simply newsworthy names. With this in mind, we look forward to our most exciting and largest auction yet featuring exemplary pieces by both established and younger artists.”

Contemporary Chinese Art - The sale will be highlighted by Project for Extraterrestrials No.10, Project to Extend the Great Wall of China by Cai Guo-Qiang (B. 1957) (est. HK$12-18 million). Executed in the unusual medium of gunpowder on paper, the work is made up of five pieces and is monumental in size measuring approximately 3 by 20 metres.

Of international renown, Cai Guo-Qiang work has been exhibited at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, the Shanghai Art Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of art, to name but a few. He has also been commissioned to produce one of his signature installation works for the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games. In addition, the Guggenheim Museum in New York will host a retrospective exhibition of his work in 2008.

Cai first explored the properties of gunpowder in his drawings, later experimenting with explosives on a massive scale leading to the development of his signature explosion events. The present example is inspired by Cai Guo-Qiang’s largest and most important project, marking the beginning of his trajectory toward becoming an artist of overwhelming international significance.

The painting reflects and records an explosion event held in 1993 at Jiayuguan where the Great Wall ends. Realized in 2000, seven years after the event itself, the present work is a regal, museum-quality summation of the project for which its maker is perhaps best known. In addition to his epic works, in 2008 Cai will be responsible for the visual art displayed at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics Games as well as the subject of a solo retrospective at the Guggenheim in New York.

The sale also features the exceptional piece The Massacre at Chios, by Yue Minjun (B.1962) (est. HK$8–12 million). Another large-scale work, the piece is a diptych made from two large oil on canvas panels. Highly significant in contemporary art history, the work has never before been offered for sale at auction.

The painting draws inspiration from the masterpiece by the same name executed in 1824 by the French painter Eugène Delacroix, which depicts the horrors that occurred during the massacre of the Greeks by the Turks on Chios in 1821. By directly referring to the original painting, Yue Minjun’s 1994 version draws direct parallel connotations conveying a similar message but applied to contemporary Chinese modern history and culture, earning Yue his title as one of the great ‘Cynical Realists’.

The piece has been extensively published and included in pioneering international exhibitions as one of the most important paintings produced during the fledgling years of contemporary Chinese art. As an early example of a piece depicting the artist’s characteristic “self-images”, it is among the largest to come onto the market in recent years. Following the record-breaking sale of Yue Minjun’s The Pope (1997) in June 2007 at Sotheby’s London for approximately HK$33 million, Sotheby’s hopes to once again achieve record results proving the auction house’s dominant position in the field.

For Xu Bing (B. 1955), text functions simultaneously as language and as object. Nowhere is this philosophy more apparent than in his American Silkworm Series of installations begun in 1994 and on offer in this sale is one example, Silkworm Series – The Foolish Old Man Who Tried to Remove the Mountain (est. HK$3-3.5 million). Beginning that year, Xu Bing began to raise an annual crop of silkworms for use in this series.

While the series began using paper books and originally called for a long display period during which the silkworms would grow and hatch, it later evolved into another of the artist’s many freely employed idioms. The three panels of text covered in silkworm cocoons offered in the present lot were realized several years into Xu’s silkworm experiments, in 2001. In a nod to the writings of Chairman Mao that Xu Bing was then incorporating into his calligraphic works, these panels transcribe Mao’s well-known 1945 adaptation of the Chinese story about the “foolish old man who tried to move the mountain.”

Mao asks, “If the entire mass of Chinese people came together to dig up these two mountains, is there any way they could fail?” Xu Bing here presents two panels of text in which these famous words are written first forwards, then backwards. Read in reverse the words appear disconcertingly familiar, like strands in a narrative that threatens to say something but never quite manages to do so. Like so much of Xu Bing’s work, these panels challenge our relation ship to the letters, and by extension the stories, that make up our histories, memories, and lives.

Of unique art historical significance are 3 works by Zeng Fanzhi, one of the most important artists from the post-1989 generation. Zeng Fanzhi’s (B. 1964), Mask Series No. 27, (est. HK$2-3 million) is an early example from this series which marked a new stage in the artist’s development and an awakening of his contemporary social reflection.

Mask Series No.27 depicts a man dressed in a drab grey, dirty white shirt. He sits at a table in front of an open book resting his head in his enormous hand. He looks straight at the viewer with blank eyes: his expression is one of bored reflection, or semi-slumber. In his quiescent state three miniature fighter jets hurtle downward towards him each exploding in a ball of flames. Typical of the Mask series, Zeng has used a palette knife to scrape the surface flat, hiding any traces of his own brushwork. There is a sense of suspension between reality and unreality, accentuated by the flat backgrounds and the presence of the unexplainable burning fighter jets.

The mask is a common theme in Chinese art history and culture; in this instance the white mask is a colour traditionally associated with death. Much may be read into the meaning behind the Mask series in terms of metaphoric interpretation. However, Zeng’s message is less political than it is social: his focus is on the falsity of human relationships, with the mask being a satirical representation of the falsity of human interaction in the world he lives in.

Zhang Xiaogang (B. 1958) and Wang Guangyi (B. 1957), two of the most significant and best-known artists working in China today, are represented in this sale by works completed in the early years of their careers. Zhang Xiaogang’s 1989 canvas Tomorrow Will be Brighter (est. HK$5-6 million) and Wang Guangyi’s Red Rationality: Revision of the Idols (est. HK$4-6 million) are two examples of the extensive oeuvre these artists have developed over the years.

Red Rationality: Revision of the Idols, a 1987 canvas, centers a pieta among two other figural groupings, all behind a starkly haunting red grid. This painting has acquired considerable fame

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