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Guangyi, Wang (b. 1957)

Wang Guangyi Great Criticism- Coca Cola (Green).jpg

Great Criticism - Coca Cola (Green), 2006; Lithograph in colors on wove paper; Signed Wang Guangyi in Chinese in pencil lower right and numbered 144/199 in pencil lower left; Published by Idem, Paris; Size - Sheet 35 x 30"; Unframed.

"... the formation of the Great Criticism series was somehow accidental as well. Despite the poor artistic qualities of propaganda images made by amateur painters during the cultural revolution, I used to find in them a unique kind of power which I wished to exploit in my works. I enlarged and copied one of those image of workers, peasants and soldiers onto a canvas, setting it in the corner, and had no idea how to deal with it. Several days later, I happened to have a chance to drink a can of Coke. This was in those days when lots of Western consumer products (such as Coca-Cola and Marlboro cigarettes) had just entered China, but Coke was still a "luxurious" drink. Incidentally, I set the Coke can on the ground, suddenly coming up with some interesting ideas." - Wang Guangyi 

Wang Guangyi (b. 1957) is a Chinese artist recognized as a leader of the new art movement that started in China after 1989. Great Criticism is his most famous series of works that integrated propaganda images of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) with contemporary logos from Western advertisements. Guangyi began this series in 1990 and ended it in 2007

when he became convinced that its international success would affect the original meaning of the works, in particular that the political and commercial propaganda images are just different forms of brainwashing.

Great Criticism - Coca Cola (Green), 2006 is a great example of Wang Guangyi's Great Criticism series and features three 'heroes' of the Chinese Cultural Revolution in red and yellow. The center male farmer is clutching a hammer and sickle (emblems of the Chinese Communist Party which together symbolize the working tools of workers and farmers) in his right hand. The left female worker and the right military male figure are both holding "Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung" commonly referred to as the "Little Red Book." At the top of the work is the western advertising logo of Coca-Cola and the figures and logo are set on a green background. The entire composition is stamped with two repeating, randomly placed numbers. During the Cultural Revolution, two license numbers were required for the production of any image for public consumption, one to produce the image and another to distribute it. The numbers reference the extreme restrictions on the creative process during Guangyi's early artistic career. The word NO with the universal recycling symbol is the artist's statement that both images are forms of propaganda that should not continue to be utilized and recycled indefinitely.

The discussion of contemporary Chinese art must include Li Xianting, the most renowned art critic in China. Xianting graduated from the Chinese Painting Department, Central Academy of Fine Art in 1978 and became the editor of Meishu (Fine Art Magazine) until 1983 and from 1985-89 he was the editor of the China Fine Art Newspaper. He is currently based in Beijing and acts as an independent critic and curator. In the late seventies and eighties he was the major force in introducing and advocating the burgeoning avant-garde art in China that was starting to embark on economic reformation. Xianting coined the terms "Cynical Realism" and "Political Pop" which formed the dominate schools of the Chinese avant-garde. Many of the artists that he discovered and promoted have become leading figures and have garnished great international attention, such as Wang Guangyi and Yue Minjun. Li Xianting writing about the emergence of Political Pop and Cynical Realism stated:


"... both (movements were) interested in the dissolution of certain systems of meaning... (and) adopt a comical approach... With a revolutionary momentum resembling that of the '85 New Wave, these artists raised the flag of Western deconstruction and rallied under slogans such as 'purging humanist enthusiasm'... They stripped the lofty veil off the metaphysical '85 New Wave and attempted to give rise to a new movement through the 'materiality and immediacy' of Pop Art. -
("Political Pop and a Deconstructivist Attempt," 1992, Li Xianting, published in MoMA Primary Documents: Contemporary Chinese Art, Durham, NC, 2010, p. 178.)

The Political Pop art movement that emerged in China in the 1980s, combined western pop art with socialist realism in order to create art that questioned the political and social climate of a rapidly changing China. The movement also was a creative means by artists to come to terms with the Cultural Revolution. Great Criticism - Coca Cola (Green), 2006 is an excellent example of Wang Guangyi at his best and would be a wonderful addition to any modern art collection!


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