Fang Lijun - Pioneers of Modernism: A Selection from the Scheeres Collection Hong Kong Saturday, May 26, 2018 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Serieuze Zaken Gallery, Amsterdam
    Collection of Fezi Kahlesi, The Netherlands
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Literature

    Sichuan Fine Arts Publishing House ed., Collected Editions of Chinese Oil Painter Volume of Fang Lijun, Sichuan, 2006, p.64 (illustrated)
    Carol Lu, Living Like a Wild Dog: 1963-2008 Archive Exhibition of Fang Lijun, Taipei, 2009, p. 228 (illustrated)
    Tingmei Wang and Ruxuan Xie eds., Endlessness of Life: 25 Years Retrospect of Fang Lijun, exh. cat., Taipei, 2009, p.228 (illustrated)
    Peng Lu and Chun Liu, Fang Lijun: Works Catalogue, Beijing, 2010, p. 262 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    As one of two paintings created by Fang Lijun offered in the present sale, 1994 No. 4 presents a key artwork from the artist’s meditative 1994 blue Swimming series, a concise body of works that has been particularly well-received by an international audience for its universal layering of meanings. Acclaimed by critic Li Xianting as a pioneer alongside Liu Wei of Cynical Realism, Fang creates fictional and ambiguous narratives to examine the shift in China. His works personify sentiments of enervation and angst as a tool to describe the radical change from a collective sense of self-sacrifice to the contemporary state of individualism. (V. Tong, ‘Chinese Cynical Realism: Fang Lijun and his ‘All Too Human World,’ Art Radar, 27 November 2017) As a leading figure of China’s avant-garde art movement, Fang has been featured in several historical exhibitions including the 1994 22nd International São Paulo Biennial, one of the earliest exhibitions to bring contemporary Chinese art to a global audience, in which the artist showcased 1994 No. 6, an important early work from the same series as the present lot.

    First rendered in 1988 as a breakaway from the ‘85 New Wave Movement, the anonymous bald figure depicted in 1994 No. 4 represents a hallmark of Fang’s artistic vocabulary. “I noticed that although a shaved head on its own is very striking, its individuality disappears in a group of shaved heads,” Fang explains. In the present work however, the anonymity afforded by the group setting is replaced by the inundating water that obscures any signs of the figure’s identity and further emphasises his isolation. This underscores Fang’s notion that “an individual person’s feeling of being omitted and ignored in society is especially strong in our culture.”

    Depicting one of Fang’s many anonymous bald-headed figures submerged in a body of deep blue water, 1994 No. 4 illustrates the artist’s recurrent fascination with the theme of water. In Laozi’s philosophy, the metaphor of water demonstrates the most suitable and successful living approach. (Zhao T.Y., ‘To Change the Way of Seeing,’ in Fang L.J. and Zhang Z.K., Fang Lijun, Beijing: Today Art Museum, 2006, pp.13-15) In response to Fang’s interest in this subject, Gregory Galligan writes that “water, like other encompassing mediums, evokes both harsh containment and spiritual liberation.” (G. Galligan, ‘Fang Lijun: Arario,’ Art In America 97, no. 4, April 2009, pp. 146-147) Although the blue liquid engulfs and nearly drowns the figure portrayed in 1994 No. 4 to symbolise the figure’s powerlessness or loss of voice, the water also serves as a vehicle to facilitate his unrestricted movement. While Series 2 No. 10, another work offered in the sale created earlier in 1992, plays with the concept of figures swimming in the water, the present blue work plunges deeper into the subject. Distinct from the cartoon-like renderings in gaudy tones characteristic of Fang’s swimming works from 1995 that heighten the sense of absurdity in his later paintings, the present lot depicts a rather serene image. The work underlines Fang’s highly naturalistic handling of white pigments to depict the soft billowing movement of the water stimulated by the figure’s body. The appeal of 1994 No. 4, nevertheless lies in Li Xianting’s notion that Fang’s “internal image, underwater swimming, expresses a latent premonition—the deep tranquillity harbours a certain menace.” ( Li X.T., ‘The “Shaved Head POPI” Created by Fang Lijun,’ in R. Malasch , P. Hovdenakk, and Li X.T., Fang Lijun, Amsterdam: Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, 1998, p. 7)

    While Fang’s early works utilised the widespread visual oppositions of the 1980s “culture debates” propagated by the popular television series 'River Elegy' (Heshang), Fang moved beyond the dichotomised 'river Elegy' idiom from late 1992 onwards to create 1994 No. 4. (Chou Y.T., ‘The Floating Body in the Art of Fang Lijun: An Artist’s Comment on the Human Condition in Post-Cultural Revolution China,’ China Information, vol. 13, issue 2-3, 1 September 1998, pp. 85-114) Though Heshang utilised contrasting imagery such as land versus sea, yellow versus blue, and individual versus group to represent China as a traditionally landlocked agricultural society in contrast to the blue sea-going culture of the West, the present lot participates in a more complex psychological dilemma.(L.O.F. Lee quoted in Ma S.Y., ‘The Role of Power Struggle and Economic Changes in the “Heshang Phenomenon” in China,’ Modern Asian Studies 30, no. 1, 1996, pp. 29-50) According to scholar Chou Yuting, the lightness of Fang's figures in the water refers to their being suspended in a state of ambivalence and irresolution. Evoking a sense of vulnerability that informed Chinese culture during this period, 1994 No. 4 depicts a figure, naked and alone, trying to exist and stay afloat in the large seemingly endless body of water.

    Despite the culturally specific lens of Heshang, Fang's blue water paintings recall memories and stir emotions for a wide ranging international audience due to their representations of unknown territories and explorations of hidden unconscious depths.( K. Ross, Revue Bibliographique De Sinologie, Nouvelle Série, 18, 2000, p. 306) With regard to the characters depicted in his work, Fang explains, “I work hard to remove any narrative. Perhaps they are individuals, perhaps against the background of society, or among other individuals, or lost in their own dreams. These scenes portray relations, but not specific stories.” (Fang Lijun interviewed by Jérome Sans, "A Primitive State of Humanity," in J. Sans, Y. Chen, and M. Woo, China Talks: Interviews With 32 Contemporary Artists By Jérôme Sans = Dui hua Zhongguo : Jieluomu Sangsi yu 32 wei dang dai yi shu jia fang tan, Hong Kong: Timezone 8, 2009) Already a major figure in China and internationally, Fang continues, with such projects, to push his art in exciting new directions, paralleling the contemporary accelerated pace of change in his home country.

Pioneers of Modernism: A Selection from The Scheeres Collection


1994 No. 4

signed, titled and dated 'Fang Lijun [in Chinese] "94 No.4"' lower left; further signed, titled and dated 'Fang Lijun [in Chinese] "1994. No.4" 1994.1-1995.2' on the reverse
oil on canvas
140 x 179.8 cm. (55 1/8 x 70 3/4 in.)
Painted in January 1994-February 1995.

HK$2,000,000 - 3,000,000 

Sold for HK$2,500,000

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Pioneers of Modernism: A Selection from the Scheeres Collection

Hong Kong Auction 27 May 2018