Wang Guangyi

(b. 1956)

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(1956– )

Chinese painter, born in Harbin in the area that used to be known as Manchuria. He was associated in the 1980s with the ‘North Art Group’, which aimed to promote the ‘masculine strength’ of northern Chinese culture, born of a more challenging climate, against both the weakness of traditional Chinese culture, related to the more temperate zone of the south, and modern Western civilization. At this time he painted highly formalized versions of famous Western paintings. A version of Jacques-Louis David's 1793 Death of Marat (1987) derives from the famous image of the French revolutionary martyr, painted in muted greys and doubled mirror fashion to enhance the sense of abstraction and stylization. Gao Minglu writes that ‘This rationalization of sacrifice as an instrument of a more perfect social order employed art like religion to depict a purified Chinese world.’ Wang responded to the political changes in China by developing a kind of ‘Political Pop’. In Mao Zedong No. 1 (1988), a grid is superimposed over the image of the leader. The work could comment on imprisonment within an ideology or it might simply be read as a nod towards Western Minimal art. Elsewhere he juxtaposes revolutionary imagery with the logos of Western commerce such as Coca-Cola. These paintings have become very popular with collectors outside China, but unlike the Russian Sots art painters who have moved to the West, he and other artists who have successfully practised the same style have tended to remain in China as part of the growing upper middle class.

Further Reading

Gao Minglu, ‘Post-Utopian Avant-Garde Art in China’, in A. Erjavec (ed.), Postmodernism and the Postsocialist Condition (2003)

Subjects: Art.

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