The multi-talented Wang Guangyi is a leading artist, art critic and intellectual who supports and promotes progressive changes to the state of the arts and culture in China. His art is categorised under the popular genre of Political Pop. It is a movement that merges the ideology of the communist propaganda of the Cultural Revolution with the seductiveness of American advertisements, which results in an artistic language that resembles the Pop Art movement in America. The visual language of Wang's art references the format of Chinese government propaganda posters of the late 1960s and 1970s. His figures are dramatically outlined against a backdrop of flat primary colours emblazoned with logos of popular international consumer brands.
The artistic idiom of Political Pop is not unlike its western counterpart, where imageries of consumer culture camouflage social and political critique, unmasking the ironies and hypocrisies of a culture where commercial success is the acme of achievement in life. Wang's art navigates its way through the landscape of the two opposing systems of consumerist capitalism and Chinese communism in contemporary China. He highlights the conflict between China's political past and commercialised present by juxtaposing revolutionary images with consumer logos. Stylistically, he merges the aesthetics of Chinese propaganda art with the sensibility of American kitsch.
Wang has a habit of returning and reworking his original themes. The artist explained: "Conceptually speaking, this process of returning to the original expression has meant for me a return to the original ideological worldview that guided my earliest educational experience, and by extension, to the earliest views on the questions of form that were imparted to me. In fact, it could be said that all the work I am now doing is related to this idea of going back to the original, and of reducing things to their essentials. In the past, I never thought this way, but now I am following the trajectory of my own growth development. I realised that is very important for an artist." Such a practice suggests the deep-seated influence from his training in dialectical Marxism where the political power of images and their repetition is emphasised.
In the Great Criticism Series: Coca Cola (Lot 68), Wang presents a group of heroic and idealistic peasants and soldiers who, with arm raised and holding a weapon, gaze towards the far away utopian horizon. The poses of the figures are inspired by the mass-produced propaganda campaigns and public sculptures honouring the ideals of the nation. The ethos of heroic self-sacrifice is a value that still remains important today. The red background, which corresponds to the Little Red Book of the Cultural Revolution, is combined with the stars, collars and pins to suggest the omnipresence of Communism. The juxtaposition of the iconographies of consumerism and communism is the artist's way of simultaneously critiquing the legacy of communism in China, and the culture of consumerism with its heedless abandonment of ideals in exchange for materialistic gain. Such cultural critique is also evident in works by the conceptual artists Barbara Kruger and John Baldessari. A typical motif of the Great Criticism series is the serial numbers found spread across the canvas. For any images produced for public consumption during the Cultural Revolution (1966 - 1976), two licenses were required: one for the production and another for the distribution of the image. These numbers reference the extreme restrictions and censorship imposed on creative output during those years. The western advertisement logo "Coca Cola" is appropriated to highlight the artist's complex response towards China's extraordinary historical and economical changes. The heroic spirit and idealism of the revolution is now confronted with the superficial branding of western commercialism. Wang explains: "In my view, the central point I want to express in the Great Criticism series is the ideological antagonism that exists between western culture and socialist ideology. The significance of this antagonism has more to do with issues in cultural studies than simply art in and of itself." (Wang Guangyi quoted in Wang Guangyi, Timezone 8, Hong Kong, 2002, p. 28). The artist's appropriation of these two disparate visual vocabularies expresses his ironic critique of the current state of affairs in contemporary China while yearning for a time past that is filled with passionate activism and idealistic conviction.