HONG KONG - Sotheby’s Hong Kong will hold its Contemporary Asian Art sale on 4 October at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. This season, in addition to the regular various-owner sale, Sotheby’s is honoured to present Property from an Important European Collection, a single-owner sale encompassing 38 lots expected to fetch a total of over HK$30 million / US$3.8 million. The sale highlights seminal works by the likes of Zhang Xiaogang, Yu Youhan, Ding Yi, Li Songsong and Wang Du. Presenting important works by numerous Shanghai artists, this collection provides a rare opportunity to understand the creations of Shanghai contemporary artists as a group. Selected highlights will be on view throughout September in Asia and during Asia Art Week in New York, followed by an exhibition open to the public in Hong Kong from 2 to 3 October. See Notes to Editors at the end of this press release for details.
Ms. Evelyn Lin, Sotheby’s Head of Contemporary Asian Art Department, said, “A systematic collection can illuminate the zeitgeist embedded within art works. Sotheby’s is honoured to present Property from an Important European Collection comprising major works by Fang Lijun, Zhang Xiaogang, Wang Guangyi, Li Shan, Ding Yi and others. These works are unique documents to help our understanding of China and the country’s expeditious progress. What makes this collection even more significant is the presence of major works by leading Shanghai artists, who are more attuned to scrutinising urban life compared with their Beijing counterparts. Among these important works are Gaudy Art representative Yu Youhan’s The Waving Mao and, for the first time ever, the complete photo and video masterpiece by Yang Zhenzhong, Light as Fuck I. We hope that this auction will help contemporary Chinese art collectors understand Shanghai artists and their environment as well as broaden their collecting interest.”
Avant-Garde Art in Shanghai
Property from an Important European Collection includes seminal works by avant -garde artists active in Shanghai in the 1980s and 1990s, in addition to other renowned contemporary Chinese artists, such as Zhang Xiaogang, Fang Lijun, Yue Minjun and Wang Guangyi. Ever since the implementation of its open-door policy, China’s avant-garde art movement has grown in leaps and bounds. Shanghai plays an indispensable role in contemporary Chinese art as a link between Chinese and Western styles. Following the legacy of Wu Dayu and other pioneers of Abstraction in modern Chinese painting, Shanghai artists have proven to be daring in experimenting with forms and styles. Among them are Ding Yi who responds to Western Minimalism from his unique perspective, and Yu Youhan and Li Shan, both of whom excel in Political Pop and Gaudy Art.
Navigating in a different realm from those in other regions of China, Shanghai artists are exceptionally independent and individualistic. Living in a crowded city where urban anonymity breeds indifference, Shanghai artists are intrinsically different from their counterparts from the North, especially Beijing. Often, Shanghai artists are more engaged with society; they observe and respond with sensitivity to issues such as urbanisation and consumerism. During the 1990s Gaudy Art became popular, with Yu Youhan being its most prominent proponent. Having taken leave of Abstract art, Yu appropriates Mao Zedong’s image in his Political Pop art which made his name heard. Living in a bustling metropolis where materialism reigns supreme, Yu experiments with vibrant colours and popular subjects to reflect and to analyse the excesses of urban consumerism. Among the Property from an Important European Collection are also works by Yang Zhenzhong, Pu Jie, and Liu Jianhua, all of whose works render their perspectives on the highly commercial world that is Shanghai.
Among the highlights of this collection is Yu Youhan’s (b. 1943) The Waving Mao (Est. HK$700,000-900,000 / US$90,000-120,000) which is similar to an earlier piece by the same artist. Political Pop emerged as a principle avant-garde movement in the post-1989 era and Yu Youhan is among its best advocates. While inspired by propaganda posters from the Cultural Revolution, Yu Youhan is also influenced by Western Impressionism and Modernism. His series of works featuring Mao Zedong’s image reflect the changing circumstances of China’s economy, politics and culture since the beginning of Communist reign, transforming the almost sacred image of Chairman Mao into mere ornament. The Waving Mao was commissioned by fashion designer Vivienne Tam in 1995. The Chinese inscription on the lower right corner of the painting reads: “Made for Madam Vivienne Tam, Yu Youhan, 1995”. An earlier work from 1990 with the same title was featured in the groundbreaking exhibition China’s New Art: Post-1989.
Ding Yi’s (b. 1962) Appearances of Crosses – 6 (Est. HK$1.5-2.5 million /US$190,000-320,000) created in 2005 is another important work in this collection. Begun in 1988, the Appearance of Crosses series is among Ding Yi’s rare large-scale works and centres on one of the most common symbols of the human subconscious. Yet Ding Yi empties the symbol of its meaning by turning orderly patterns into painterly brushstrokes and subverting the viewer’s conventional response to the symbol, with the densely packed crosses probing the viewer’s spatial perception of the canvas’s surface. Depending on viewing distance, one is presented with distinct, textured shapes and a giant cross embedded within; patterns on the canvas are as vibrant as exploding fireworks. Conveying the inharmonious complexity of contemporary urban existence, this work is an inspiration to behold. Appearance of Crosses – 6 is among Ding Yi’s favourite works and was featured on the catalogue cover for the retrospective on the artist held by Birmingham’s IKON Gallery in 2006.
Another highlight of this collection is Zhang Xiaogang’s (b. 1958) Bloodline Series: Yellow Baby (Est. HK$5-7 million / US$ 640,000-900,000) from 1997. Zhang Xiaogang’s Bloodline Series portraits are based on old family photographs and charcoal drawings. Cool tones are dominant and colour is usually limited to a small patch on the cheek, the thin red blood line, or an occasional flash of colour on the garments. Through them, we see Chinese people in the early years after Communist liberation, during a period of material depravation when men and women both wore the obligatory Mao suit, which de-emphasised gender and class differences. Each anonymous face looks virtually identical and iconic of an era of social suppression. However, Zhang Xiaogang’s meticulous care in providing colour on the cheeks or thin red blood lines still delineates individual character. The subject sitting in the chair in Bloodline Series: Yellow Baby appears to be female, although the hair and clothing suggests a male toddler, bringing out contrasts of identities in terms of age and gender. Despite the inviting, cottony softness of the background, it alienates the child from reality, seemingly isolated in its world, creating a paradox that evokes empathy from the viewer. It is one of the most representative works from Zhang Xiaogang’s Bloodline Series of the 1990s.
Put Down Your Whip (Est. HK$2-3 million / US$260,000-38,000) created by Li Songsong (b. 1973) in 2007 is one of very few of the artist’s works derived from another work of art: Situ Qiao’s painting of the same title currently in the collection of the National Art Museum. While Situ Qiao’s work was based on an anti-war play against the Japanese occupation, Li Songsong deconstructs and reconstructs the image in his unique style of Abstraction, distancing the viewer from the historical event, therefore dissolving the realism of the original painting and its nature as a record of history. In doing so the artist refocuses the viewer’s attention on pure artistic expressions and reveals the changing nature of Chinese art in the past century, which is truly thought-provoking. As Li Songsong once said, “No matter how you paint, there is no way to conceal the reality of history… but perhaps my painting can provide some scepticism in the way we look upon certain issues or ideas.”
Another highlight of the collection is Wang Du’s (b. 1956) No Comment (est. HK$1.2-1.8 million / US$150,000-230,000), which was exhibited in the opening exhibition of Palais de Tokyo - Site de création contemporain in Paris. Wang Du, who now lives in Paris, concentrates on the critical analysis and deconstruction of the power and ubiquity of the mass media. A person of influence in the Chinese art world for decades, Wang Du has established an international reputation as a leading conceptual artist. Created in 2001, No Comment is characteristic of Wang Du’s creations, with the artist’s beliefs conveyed effectively through both the medium and the message. The double meaning of the work’s title and the newspapers in the trash can both clearly reveal the artist’s conviction: that daily news is rubbish, and that people consume this media with as little care as they give their trash. The majority of the newspapers in the waste basket are the left-leaning Libération rather than the more conservative Le Monde, another detail that informs us of the artist’s beliefs. In the age of overflowing information, one live television newsfeed works as well as any other to convey the artist’s outrage.