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Wei Guangqing: From the Cultural Pop to Being on the Scene

Author: Ma Qingzhong 2006

Wei Guangqing is an important vanguard in modern art of China, especially from 1985 to the early 90's. He has participated in a series of important exhibitions of Chinese modern art at home and abroad.

The genuine establishment of Wei Guangqing's artistic individuality traced back to his Red Wall series. On the surface, people naturally look upon the international influence of Chinese Pop art as the results of ideological fine art. In addition, political subjects cause the concerns from Western galleries. This is undoubtedly correct. But, there is an exception here, and it is Wei Guangqing.

From this point of view, no matter if it is Wei Guangqing or Wang Guangyi or the others, they have surely been searching for their expression for Chinese problems, under the shadow of Warhol. That kind of popular commercialized images of Warhol and other American artist has changed. When they reach China, they change into the sneering and ridiculing style bearing the Culture Revolution color, while attacking popular culture. Wei Guangqing is surely exceptional. The flat technique of the Pop Art style and its language of a narrative type often cause people to forget Wei Guangqing's difference beneath this superficial similarity. This is the real cultural property of his Pop Art.

Whether he is consciously choosing the non-political appearance or the cultural property of his Pop Art is not our concern for the time being. He might have had some accidental factors affecting his decision, but "Pop art from the Chinese position" has run through Wei Guangqing's art making continuously. On the one hand, he reduces the painting characteristics, particularly the depth of color, expressing his concept with the most direct visual means. On the other hand, he tries to put this concept in the root of Chinese culture, converting it into a visual consideration about a Chinese cultural, but not political, problem.

So, Wei Guangqing's Pop Art is a Cultural Pop, with the succinct and direct language rooted in the soil of Chinese culture. From the Red Wall series, he labored for many years to the recent Monroe series. His works have had, throughout them, a kind of cultural narration and metaphor. The paintings' backgrounds are often appropriated from the illustrations of the ancient Chinese classics like "The Tales of the Western Wing Rooms" and "Golden Bottle Plum," but a red wall is always occupying the foregrounds, symbolizing the irreversible temporal distance that mysteriously separates today from history. But there is something common that gives a kernel linkage to all lives: sexuality.

There are a few points that are worth our attention. First, sex in popular literature of ancient times, in today's commercialized mass media, and popular culture has been flooding, because of a common way of social viewing, namely men see women, and women are always being looked at. No matter how Wei Guangqing is showing this problem and with what intention, its special implication inside Chinese cultural context is surely different from that of the West.

Second, the implied significance of the "wall" is stressed. By the picture appearing on the wall, which is a barrier of time and space here, the painter is implying a certain motivation lies behind. A certain historic force, beyond one's grasp, guides the path of individual lives. If it is said that the Red Wall series before 1997 stick to the intertwining relation between reality and tradition, then works like, Who's who and Hero and Beauty switch from tradition to reality, to a present concern.

At this point, Wei Guangqing felt even more strongly intervening the spiritual state and the existence mode of the younger generation into our lives. They are more familiar with the electronic culture and cloning. So, history is even more likely to be a hidden, mysterious incantation. However, Wei Guangqing still threaded them together organically, using sex and procreation. For example, in "Leisure KTV" and "Five Walks--Gold Life", the dyed hair and cloned figures show that the historic procreative power is still there though cloning brings whatever one wants. The wall, separates and shields, and being broken through looks a little bit fatalistic.

Thirdly, the weakened value judgment and stressed meaning consideration. Initially, seeing Wei Guangqing's works, one feels that his direction is indistinct. But after careful analysis, you would find he purposely weakened his value expression. It is not this or that that mattered, but it is fabricating a visual narration with rich content that is worth chewing. Thus, he pushes forward the question he wants people to think about. "Sex" in his works is not rendered symbolically, nor dealt with sensational provoking, but culturally historicalized. The so-called "culture historicalization" refers to his taking sex as a procreative power accumulated with deep historical implications, which is like a mysterious factor always determining our immediate actions.

If Wei Guangqing stressed the historical tracking back on the culture property of art before this, then since 1999, he has been trying to open up another angle on his cultural thinking, namely putting "I" into his painting. On one hand, this indicated Wei Guangqing is passing beyond and expanding on the basic points of his long considerations. On the other, there is his change from a spectator to a participator in the course of the China's reform in the 90's. What is "I", particularly in this computer time, in the existence model of time and space coexisting Internet time?

Wei Guangqing has changed his method of tracing, from inquiring by presenting an image far from himself to coming-on-stage himself. This shows the artistic problems of the 90's are more and more related to the artists. A conceptual problem is no longer outside of the artists, but a problem that the artist must solve himself. In a time where the tide of market orientation, political topics, and elite stand points oust and do not belong to the main stream. Undoubtedly, this coming-on-stage is a typical example of art in the 90's: namely the problem is not outside of "I".

The presentation of Wei Guangqing's objects is quick-witted and rich in the implied meanings. The Notebook is a laptop, but it also refers to the private record of one's secrets, but the contents are all "copies". The method is from the analogy of Pop Art, but the thinking has a bigger span. The displacement is interesting. In Notebook-Goods, the good is himself. Can the so-called "goods" change into a "thing"? "Goods" can be exchanged, but a "thing" is a vague and general term. Also in Notebook-Drug Soap and Notebook-Condom, we see another kind of the change in thinking form that we see inside Red Wall, or a deepened form. By the association hinted in the titles of these three installations (I am inclined to call them "installations in plane"), namely "I," "curing," and "clearing up procreation". Of course, the reciprocal explanations of the terms are wanton, and everyone can explain them in his own way. But what I want to say is: his coming-on-stage is his sociological expression. Returning the cultural thinking from afar to a close, direct, realistic experience. I think, his probe in this aspect is just the beginning. It would be ridiculous to make conclusions of any kind on him right now. The path of an artist steps out of the artist's real practice.

Edited by Lin Sophia Ma, September 2007

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