As one of the leading protagonists of Chinese contemporary art, Wang Guangyi rapidly established himself both within China and internationally not only as an artist but as a critic and public intellectual advocating a radical and progressive re-evaluation of Chinese contemporary art and culture. Caught up in the swell of China's "Culture Fever" in the 1980s and the popular discourse debating the state and future of national culture, Wang Guangyi nonetheless always maintained a coolly analytical and deconstructive approach to art and aesthetics. His earliest works aimed to produce an objective analysis of the underlying principals of art and beauty. These works reference classic images of Western art, but the compositions were reduced to a balance of shapes and masses laid out on a grid. It was as if Wang Guangyi wanted to reveal to the view the taken for granted principles underlying an aesthetic responses. For Wang, notions of beauty are built on calculated manipulations of form, color, composition, and perspective, and the highest aim of art would be to reveal the apparatus of this illusion.
This impulse reached its full maturity with the artist's breakthrough "Great Criticism" series, paintings fusing the imagery of mass produced Chinese propaganda with well-known Western commercial logos. Well-acquainted with the vocabularies of international contemporary art practice, Wang's appropriationist Political Pop certainly has corollaries in Western Pop Art. Even so, the ferocity of Wang's works, and their deep roots in Chinese cultural and historical experience, by far exceed the Western art influence. In the artist's magnificent Ferrari (lot 167) diptych from 2004, Wang employs the classic figures of revolutionary imagery, building a mass of heroic figures including the three ideal revolutionary types - workers, peasants, and soldiers - in lockstep across the breadth of the composition. Their idealized, muscular and chiseled features offer a romantic view of collective action. The dynamism of their figures, coordinating independently but as a coherent troupe, is lyrical in its rhythms, implying a larger collective participating with them and seducing the viewer into joining them as well.
Juxtaposed against these revolutionary types is the blunt commercialism of the "Ferrari" logo, providing a crass philosophical opposition to the idealism indicated by the figures. The chosen logo in and of itself has little meaning; the point for Wang is to highlight the arbitrariness of ideological systems and slogans, and that masses of people can be all too easily organized under any given banner. The contrast between these two visual and ideological systems allows the artist to explore the opposing ideologies of socialism and capitalism, exposing the ways in which these supposedly antithetical systems are nonetheless visually complementary. In this way, Wang simultaneously critiques the legacy of communism in China, while also producing a critique of the radical turn towards consumerism evident in the country in the last two decades. The jarring, cropped 'NO-N' at the lower right edge of the canvas is a rejection of bourgeois materialism, but not a terribly convincing one. Wang's appropriation of these two visual styles represents his own ironic critique on the failure of the communist project, as well as his disappointment with the lack of idealism in the present day. As such, much like Carl Andre's famous comment on the work of Andy Warhol, Wang is working fully in the spirit of his times, providing us with precisely with the art we deserve.