Alexandra Seno previews the Ullen auction in Hong Kong by focusing on the work of Wang Guangyi, “Great Criticism Series: President:”
The painting, which is expected to fetch between 1 million and 1.5 million Hong Kong dollars (about $128,000 to $192,000), was made in 1993, when China was in the early stages of opening up to the rest of the world. It mimics the propaganda poster image of the worker and the Little Red Book-toting young cadre, citizens in the socialist paradise whose happiness is in serving the people. Numbers cascade across the canvas. A Uni-President logo, hallmark of Taiwan’s big food manufacturer, and the company’s name appear in place of China’s national flag and patriotic slogans.
The work has a striking, if simple, visual appeal. And then there is the artist. Mr. Wang, who was born in Harbin on the border with Russia, was a key figure in a clique of young Chinese who called themselves the “Northern Art Group” and sought to explore other possibilities of painting, which for their generation had mostly served the government propaganda departments.
In 1993, Mr. Wang represented China at the Venice Biennale, where he was feted for the Great Criticism paintings, which mixed Communist iconography with familiar brand logos. It was just four years after the world watched the Tiananmen crackdown on TV and still the early days of the mainland’s economic liberalization.
At that time, Mr. Wang’s style was a refreshing and intriguing sight to international art lovers. The artist referenced the pop sensibility made famous by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, yet he seemed to comment on politics, a changing society and shifting values.
A Great Critical Auction (SceneAsia/Wall Street Journal.com)