Fifteen years ago, I wrote "a basic assessment for works in Biennial exhibitions" in the "First Guangzhou 1990s Art Biennial Exhibition (Oil Painting)." It contained following words:
... Artists' creative mentality is obviously more relaxed than that of '85 period. The attitude of parody, satire, and game playing has become a new kind of style. The trend is distinctively reflected in the "Hubei Pop Art" and the so-called "new generation" artists group. "Hubei Pop Art", borrowing schemes from history or popular consumer culture, then turning them into art, undoubtedly had a profound cultural or social significance. Hence, the critics broadly classified them into different types of "Cultural Pop Art", or "Social Pop Art". These artworks' conflicting, incoherent, and complicated multiple meanings are naturally overflowed with deliberate through humor, witty imagination, and puzzling technical production. The strengthening of a conscious life and the closeness with the public made art more in harmony with the flavor of contemporary Chinese culture.
These words were of my second point among a few summarizations in exploring art works' characteristics and trends in the exhibition. In this article, I predicted that these characters and trends would attract the attentions of critics and art historians, and would have an influence on Chinese art of 1990s. Among "Hubei Pop Artists" who left me the above impression, Wei Guangqing was an important representative. Even then, he had taken a format that was different from that of the other "Hubei Pop Artists". That is, "linking the past with the present," to work under a format, which links historical culture with the present realities. Wei's award-winning Red Wall – Harmonious Home is a work that links the forgotten moral stories in "Zhu Family Motto" of traditional culture with the trendy film box, whereas the Red Wall has a clear political implication. Through collusion of incredible forces in reality and transformations of meaningful spaces, deconstruction and reconstruction of historical culture, contemporary life is achieved.
Now it seems that my expectations have come true. Lu Peng, in his "20th century Chinese art history" (Beijing University Press 2006.12), expended substantial coverage describing the "Hubei Pop Art" in the "Guangzhou Art Biennial." He evaluated Wei Guangqing thus, "the artist, by using traditional wood carving reading schema and strong colors, changed the original characteristic of the Pop Art language – deconstructing its meaning. It has become the paradigm for the studying of the variation of the 90s' Western art in Chinese situation." The above "accurate" critic obviously came from the review of awarding winning work in "First Guangzhou 1990s Art Biennial" - Wei Guangqing's Red Wall – Harmonious Home. These words - "change," "Chinese situation," "variation," and "paradigm," did not only describe the contemporary artist, Wei Guangqing, his working method, and typical appearance of artistic personality, but also pointed to another theoretical question worthy of consideration—Chinese modern art's contemporaneousness and indigenousness. The word "paradigm" also pointed to this specific context. The original text of "Winner's Reviews" is: "it (the Red Wall – Harmonious Home) provides a valuable paradigm for the study of contemporary Western art language transforming in the new context in the coming period". It had the connotations of prediction and forecast. Lu Peng, in his comments of Chinese Art History of 20th Century, clearly affirmed that expectation, because Lu Peng described, "It (Red Wall – Harmonious Home) has become the paradigm for the studying of the variation of the 90s' Western art in the Chinese situation."
I certainly agree with Lu Peng. Furthermore, I believe that this research of "variation in Chinese situation" is not only the key to the analysis and evaluation of Wei Guangqing's works created after the Red Wall – Harmonious Home, but also the way to explore modern Chinese art's "contemporaneousness" and "indigenousness."
Wei Guangqing's Made in China and Golden Lotus successfully represents the exploration of Chinese modern art's "contemporaneousness" and "indigenousness." Investigation of the "variation of Western art in the Chinese environment" should be compared to the difference between Western Pop Art and Wei Guangqing's works. As we all know, Rauschenberg, Johns, Kaprow, Oldenburg, and others represents the United States' Pop Art movement with their works. The best representative of the American Pop Art is Andy Warhol. Andy Warhol imitated advertisement and comic books in his creation. Depicting Coca-Cola bottles, canned soups, and portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Andy Warhol's method and choices of theme are meant to attract attention or to shock. Some commentators think his creativity strategically directed at the post-modernism, that his works of art equate to commodities, subtly hinting the culture of monopolizing capitalism and its modification of reality by the using similar means of mass production. They also think that Warhol's works reflected ubiquity. The artist would not admit his works contain criticisms. Andy Warhol emphasized, he "truly admires and appraises the popular art. While carefully managing his reputation, he has no conflicts or arguments with modern capitalism." The western Pop Art represented by Andy Warhol can be seen as the product of consumer society. Differentiating from the emerging conceptual art forms that directly and purposefully criticize social, political, and cultural themes, Western Pop Art follows the cultural logic of consumer society. Warhol claimed that he was a commercial artist. According to his view, "the talent of managing business is the best kind of art", "making money is art, creativity is art, and a successful business is the best kind of art." The so-called "the nature of the original Pop Art language—the deconstruction of significance" precisely began with this prospect—Pop Art theme and the artistic skill broke the barrier between the "elegant" and the "mundane," also toppled the traditional view about artists' personality and artistic pursuit.
Made in China went far beyond borrowing the Western Pop Art's original ideas. In fact, the author merely borrowed the Pop Art styles two-dimensional image usage. The conscious concerns of the social and cultural issues closely tied with the contemporary indigenous culture. As part of choosing the materials, Wei Guangqing adhered to the tradition of Red Wall -- Harmonious Home, that is the "linking the past with the present" approach. What is different is that the new work contains more traditional elements from Chinese culture, including the usage of the traditional printing techniques, such as the repeated illustrations from Golden Lotus prints. The goal is not just to evoke a historical and cultural memory, but also to emphasize certain spiritual content. At this point, the position Wei Guangqing took is quite different from Warhol's and other western artists', but the attitude is just as unambiguous. Wei Guangqing said, "Chinese culture has a long history. It has an inherent uniqueness. It should be stressed in our art. My 'Pop Art' and western 'Pop Art' differentiate in this context." He added further that, "I think the artists' products should create for the audience a perspective, even a blind spot. The process should be interactive." Made in China creates a unique and strange perspective, as a background color bar code and Made in China symbol presents a symbolic display of China as the "world factory". The pornographic "Golden Lotus" illustrations present a subversive intent. Obviously, it only serves with the guise of sexual urges, while the real intention is elsewhere. It is equally clear that it exposed the reality of great Chinese "sex" revolution since 90s. Made in China brought together more historical and contemporary visual elements than Red Wall, using as much as possible of the relevant comparison and change in meanings of words to express concern and thought. Thus, Made in China, with the cultural consciousness and self-confidence, transcendes the cultural confrontation of the East and West, while changing the Pop Art language. This enables the work, while using the traditional cultural resources to set a foothold in the Chinese cultural context to create a contemporary art that belongs to China's own "contemporaneousness."
1, "Ideal and Practice," Sichuan Art Press, October 1992.
2, 6, Shen Wei, "Commitment to Image – Discussion with Wei Guangqing About Broadening," Art Circle, 2005, vol.1.3, "Guangzhou 1990s Art Biennial (Oil Painting) Documents of Works," Sichuan Art Press, October 1992.
4, 5, Robert Williams, "Post-Modern Art Theory," Chang Ningshen, Xing Li translated, Art Gallery, The Shanghai Fine Arts Publishing, 2007, vol. 10.Edited by Lin Sophia Ma, September 2007