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On "The Virtuous Words" Series

Author: Grace Fan 2006

Wei Guangqing, born 1963, lives and works in Wuhan.  Since 1988 he participated in many exhibitions around the world, including 'Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin' in the Queens Museum of Art, Brooklyn, last year.

The Extended Virtuous Words is originally named Old Virtuous Words and Old Time Virtuous Words or just briefly The Extended.

It is not known who first wrote them and when. It is said that the original version was compiled by a scholar during the mid Ming Dynasty, and then later added by others. It became very popular, ever since the late Qing Dynasty, and penetrated into every corner of society. It is said 'Reading "The Extended" makes one articulate'.

The terse, easy reading, memorable verses were taken by many as a lifetime asset.  It consists of sayings from all walks of life and different kinds of styles, including religious and secular, governing and reclusive, and sayings for officials, farmers, workers, and business people.  The styles varied from elegant to vulgar, direct to implied, persuasive to deterring, and the old to the trendy languages (from the catalogue).

If Wei Guangqing's Hong Qiang (Red Wall) paintings seem oddly static, even banal at first glance, look again, for things are not as simple as they appear. A master of conceptual disjunction, Wei eschews lyrical effects for a quiet subversion that nudges gently at the moral or ideological systems that imprison our thoughts. Atop the Wuhan painter's signature Pop wall, Confucian ideals falter into kitsch, symbols topple into deconstructed signs, and representation is routed, nakedly, into just another formal system.

Like many of his contemporaries, Wei, who studied oil painting at the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts, has taken on the project of welding western modern art to traditional Chinese painting, to forge two seemingly disparate traditions into one pictorial plane.  Unlike many of them, the artist steadily rejects expressions of the self to recycle the recycled.  In the best of postmodern tradition, he seeks to illuminate the conventions we live by. Seven years ago, he happily hit upon the red brick wall in the artistic scramble for a visual "trademark" (so necessary for marketing one's oeuvre in these logo-laden times). And since then, he has painted variations on top of the theme of its grid.

Striking, often surreal, juxtapositions of a repertoire of recognizable images slide from the primly moralistic to the unabashedly pornographic. They set forth a visual map of a historically walled-off nation that flirts, at times, with modernity on the surface, but remains impervious to penetration below.

Fellow artists, from Cai Guoqiang to Wang Jin, surely seize the icon of the wall for its richness as a symbol of tradition-bound or new consumerist China (the Great Wall for site-specific performances).  Wei's particularly cerebral rendition of the wall is concerned, not so much with the object itself as with the concept of the wall, even as it manages the tricky feat of being both Pop icon and ancient Chinese moral symbol, both representation of the prison of "China" and prism that illuminates the prison of convention. Even the English word "China," tacked a bit facetiously at the bottom of most of the red wall paintings in white block letters, turns resolutely mysterious after viewed for a third or fourth time, hinting that the concept of "China" is as much linguistic as it is one determined by outside perception.  However, such false as the definition may be.

In Wei's newest 12-painting series Zeng Quang Xian Wen (Virtuous Words), a popular Qing Dynasty children's primer of the same title is set forth, enlarged, in its entirety, but the pictorial tableaux remains virtually unaltered. The original text that accompanied the sketches has been tiled up with red bricks.

Edited by Lin Sophia Ma, September 2007

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