Zeng Fanzhi (Chinese, B. 1964), Portrait, 2006. Oil on canvas. Estimate: HK$5,000,000-7,000,000 ($648,283-907,596). This work is offered in the Asian 20th Century & Contemporary Art (Evening Sale) on 28 November at Christie’s in Hong Kong
Currently living and working in Beijing, Zeng Fanzhi shot to international fame in 2013, when his painting The Last Supper established a new world record price for a contemporary Asian artwork.
Works by the artist are heavily influenced by emotional and physical experience: in the Hospital series, Zeng Fanzhi recorded scenes from the clinic near his home, contrasting the pale colours of medical wards with the vividly rendered flesh of his inpatient subjects. Series such as Mask focused on the nature of human relationships, with groups of masked figures exploring the idea of solitude.
The clothes worn by Fanzhi’s characters have remained significant in paintings across his career, reflecting the personal or societally imposed ideologies of those who wear them. From the beginning of his career, a red scarf has been a recurrent motif, standing as an emblem of social acceptance at the height of the communist regime.
Painted in 2006, Portrait was made during a period in which Zeng Fanzhi was relatively content. Set against a barren black background, the lone male figure is meticulously dressed, displaying what appears to be a sense of calm control.
Zao Wou-Ki (Zhao Wuji, French/Chinese, 1920-2013), Foudre, 1955. Estimate: HK$38,000,000-46,000,000 ($4,926,947-5,964,199). This work is offered in the Asian 20th Century & Contemporary Art (Evening Sale) on 28 November at Christie’s in Hong Kong
When Zao Wou-Ki painted Foudre in 1955 he had begun to abandon the figurative style that had characterised his early work, instead producing canvases that expressed an abstract, ‘inner’ world.
The period was one that was accompanied by a great shift in Zao’s style — the geometric forms that had characterised earlier compositions were replaced with fields of expressive brushwork, layered to produce regions of colour of varying intensity. The relationship between these areas of colour gave the artist’s canvases a new sense of movement and balance.
Inspired by the work of artists including Matisse and Picasso, Zao Wou-Ki had moved to Paris in 1947; written in French, the title of this work translates as ‘Lightning’, the term intended to express not a literal flash of light, but a shot of emotional conflict and dramatic tension.
Though the French title indicates the profound influence his new home had on his practice (the artist suggesting he only discovered his true personality whilst working in Paris), the culture of Zao’s native China remained important. An arrangement of lines at the centre of Foudre suggests ancient Chinese calligraphy.
Sanyu (or Chang Yu) (1901-1966), Vase of Chrysanthemums on a Yellow Table, 1940s. Oil on Masonite. Estimate: HK$10,000,000-15,000,000 ($1,296,565-1,944,848). This work is offered in the Asian 20th Century & Contemporary Art (Evening Sale) on 28 November at Christie’s in Hong Kong
Born in 1901, Sanyu was amongst the first generation of Chinese artists to study in Europe, joining peers including Lin Fengmian (1900-1991), Xu Beihong (1895-1953) and Pan Yuliang (1895-1977).
Just as the West had become captivated by Eastern culture, so Chinese artists of the period were travelling to Europe, seeking to create work that combined materials and aesthetic approaches from two very different regions.
Trained in classical Chinese calligraphy, when he arrived in France at the age of twenty, Sanyu began to work in oil paint, creating pieces that displayed the characteristics of Western modernism, whilst retaining spiritual and aesthetic values that could only be Chinese.
Painted in the 1940s, the artist’s Vase de Chrysanthèmes sur une table jaune depicts a vase of flowers on a red background, the painting’s concise lines echoing those of Chinese ink painting. To the right of the picture, a flower is presented in full bloom, to the left, another droops as though to fall — the composition a reflection on the circular nature of life and death.
Ju Ming (Zhu Ming, Chinese, B. 1938), Taichi Series: Cross Kick, 1992. A pair of wood sculptures. Estimate: HK$3,800,000-4,800,000 ($492,695-622,351). This work is offered in the Asian 20th Century & Contemporary Art (Evening Sale) on 28 November at Christie’s in Hong Kong
Ju Ming began his career as an apprentice to woodcarver Lee Chin, learning to sculpt, carve wood and produce the sketches that would become the foundation of his later masterpieces.
As mentor, Lee Chin would be one of two to profoundly affect Ju Ming& — from the 1970s, Ming worked with fellow sculptor Yuyu Yang, producing sculptures whose forms related to the movements of the traditional practice of Tai Chi.
Created in 1992, Taichi Series: Cross Kick depicts two figures that face each other, one attacking whilst the other defends. In Tai Chi, these opposing actions are known as Yin and Yang — the fusion of the two extremes resulting in a sense of balance, or Qi, which is one of the central tenets of Tai Chi.
The Tai Chi series has been praised internationally, with Ju Ming becoming renowned for producing abstract forms that express traditional Eastern concepts, whilst carrying an international appeal.
Liu Wei (Chinese, B.1972), Tiananmen, 2009-10. Oil on canvas, triptych. Estimate: HK$5,500,000-8,000,000 ($713,111-1,037,252). This work is offered in the Asian 20th Century & Contemporary Art (Evening Sale) on 28 November at Christie’s in Hong Kong
From the era of China’s feudal monarchy to the present day republic, Tiananmen Square has stood as a charged symbol of political authority, bearing witness to political events that have come to stand as some of the most critical in China’s recent history.
The square’s tumultuous history has made it a major subject for China’s contemporary artists, with Chinese art historian Wu Hung noting a surge in new photography and performance art relating to the site from 1993.
When compared to other works on the same subject matter, Liu Wei’s Tiananmen appears detached. It does not carry the same dramatic narrative or intense social criticism as other works by the artist’s contemporaries, nor does it emphasise the towering walls, portrait of Mao Zedong, and the enormous banners bearing slogans of the party.
The viewer’s gaze is directed, first, to street lamps in the foreground, progressing across Chang’an Avenue before, finally, discovering Tiananmen on the left — Liu Wei’s composition lending the image a candid quality. This reinterpretation of a major landmark and artistic subject confirms Liu Wei’s confidence as a mature artist, re-iterating his assertion that ‘the most important aspect of art is freedom — the freedom to observe, interpret and comprehend.’
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