Wang Guangyi

Wang Guangyi
b. 1957, Harbin, Heilongjiang
After graduating in oil painting at the China Academy of Fine Arts in 1984, Wang Guangyi became a leading member of the Northern Art Group (Beifang yishu qunti) active in the second half of the 1980s. He championed rationalism in his compositions of grey planes presenting outlines of people and scenes deprived of emotional quality. In 1988 he became the first Chinese artist to appropriate Mao’s standard portraits superimposed by square patterns. By the time of his participation in the China Avant-Garde exhibition (1989) in Beijing, he was already well known inside China, but it was not until 1993 that he made his name with the Great Criticism (Da pipan) series, which became a trademark of the trend known as Political Pop. That year Chinese contemporary art made its first large-scale appearance on the world stage with three exhibitions—‘China Avant-Garde’ (Berlin), ‘China’s New Art Post-1989’ (Hong Kong) and the 45th Venice Biennale—all of which displayed works by Wang Guangyi (see China’s New Art, Post-89 (Hong Kong, 1993) and China Avant-Garde (Berlin, 1993)).
Wang’s pastiches derived from the propaganda language of the Cultural Revolution which juxtaposed proletarian icons with symbols of capitalist consumer culture. The canonized postures of the people’s heroes remain unaltered, but the subjects of their fierce battle have become the brand names of commercial products such as Marlboro or Coca-Cola. These paintings have enjoyed much success, particularly because they have actively served to nourish Western Don Quixote-like fantasies about the stereotype of an unadulterated nation ruled by diehard ideology. Though Wang has tried other subjects since, his main focus and style remain unchanged, even in his recent sculptures. Wang Guangyi has been honoured with four solo exhibitions, including one at Littmann Kulturprojekte in Basel (1997).
See also: Lei Feng; political icons (and art); poster art and artists; posters and education
Dal Lago, Francesca (2001). ‘Images, Words and Violence: Cultural Revolutionary Influences on Chinese Avant-Garde Art’. In Wu Hong (ed.), Chinese Art at the Crossroads: Between Past and Future. Hong Kong: New Art Media, 32–9.
Li, Xianting (1994) ‘Wang Guangyi and “Political Pop”’. In Wang Guangyi (exhibition catalogue). Beijing: Hanart T Z Gallery.
Lü, Peng and Yi Dan (1992). Zhongguo xiandai yishushi [A History of Modern Art in China]. Changsha: Hunan meishu chubanshe, 157–68.
Smith, Karen, Yan, Shanchen and Merewether, Charles (eds) (2002). Wang Guangyi. Hong Kong: Timezone 8.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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