Wei Guangqing: From the cultural pop to being on the scene

Ma Qingzhong

Wei Guangqing is an important vanguard in modern art of China, especially from 1985 to the early 90's, he had participated in a series of important exhibitions of Chinese modern art in home and abroad. But the genuine establishment of Wei Guangqing's artistic individuality should be traced to his "Red Wall" series. On the surface, people very naturally look upon the international influence of Chinese pop art as the result of ideological fine arts, and the concerns over it from the Western galleries are caused by political subjects. This is doubtlessly correct. But, there is an exception here, and it is Wei Guangqing. From the superficial skill, no matter Wei Guangqing, or Wang Guangyi and the others, they have surely been searching their expression methods for Chinese problems under the shadow of Warhol. But that kind of popular commercialized images of Warhol and other American artist changed, when they reached China, into the sneering and ridiculing style bearing the Culture Revolution color attacking the popular culture. But, Wei Guangqing surely is exceptional. The flat technique of the pop art style and its language of a narrative type often causes people forgetting Wei Guangqing's difference beneath this superficial similarity. And this is the cultural property of his pop art.

Whether he is conscious in 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 the "Pop art of Chinese position" has run through Wei Guangqing's art making continuously. On one hand, he reduces the painting characteristics, particularly the depth of color, expressing his concept by the most direct visual means. On the other hand, he tries to put this concept expression in the root of Chinese culture, converting it into a visual consideration about a Chinese cultural, 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 on which he has 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: the sexuality.

There are a few points worth our attentions: Firstly, the sex in the popular literature of ancient times and 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 mater Wei Guangqing is showing this problem with what intention, its special implication inside Chinese cultural context is surely different from that of the West.

Secondly, 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 lying behind, a certain historic force beyond one's grasp guiding 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 the present concern.

At this point, Wei Guangqing felt even more strongly the intervence of the spiritual state and the existence mode of a younger generation into our life. They are more familiar with electronic culture and gene clone. So, history is even more like a hidden, mysterious incantation. But 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 judgement 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, not this or that that mattered, but fabricating a visual narration with rich content and worth chewing, and thus pushing forward the question he want people to think about. Thus it can be seen, "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 accmulated with deep historical implications, which is like a mysterious factor always determining our immediate actions.

If before this, the Wei Guangqing stressed the historical tracking back on the culture property of art, 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's passing beyond and expansion on the basic point of his long time consideration. On the other 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 a image far from himself to his coming on the stage. This shows the artistic problems of the 90's are more and more related with artists themselves, no longer an idea problem outside the artist but a problem that the artist must solve by himself in a time and tide of market orientation in which political topics and elite standing points are ousted and not belonging to the main stream. Doubtlessly, this coming on the stage is a typical example of art in the 90's: namely the problem is not being outside of "I".

The presentation object selections of Wei Guangqing are quick-witted and rich in the implied meanings. The "notebook" is a computer and also refers to the private record of one's secrets, but the contents are all his self "copy". The method is from the analogy of pop art, but the thinking has a bigger span. The displacement is interesting. In "Notebook-goods", the goods 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 of thinking form that we see inside "Red Wall", or a deepened form, by the association hinted in the titles of these three installations (I 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 the stage is his sociological expression returning the cultural thinking far from oneself to his direct, realistic experience. I think, his probe in this aspect is just beginning, and it would be ridiculous at present to make conclusions of any kind on him. The path of an artist is stepped out in the real practice of the artist.