Sun Yitian - Modern & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Friday, May 31, 2024 | Phillips
  • “This is an era of quick success and instant profit. So I will simply return what I have been given. If you want colour, I'll give you colour; if you want superficiality, I'll give you superficiality; if you want desire, I'll give you desire; if you want to pry, I'll let you pry. There is nothing to hide, any image can become a monument."
    — Sun Yitian 

    Toys Or Art?

    Born in Wenzhou and being exposed in her early life to local leather and plastic manufacturing, Sun Yitian’s roots in a landscape that is saturated with colourful, synthetic materials would later pervade her artistic vision. Her journey to crafting such a unique aesthetic and her rise to recognition began with a poignant visit to the bustling markets in Yiwu, China’s manufacturing hub for small, daily consumer products. This is where Sun's love affair with inflatable plastic toys first sprouted, transforming these banal everyday objects into profound commentaries on culture and consumerism. In her senior year at university, Sun embarked on her defining series "Artificial Objects"(人造物), which marked a pivotal moment in her artistic career. The technique she meticulously employs places cheap plastic toys in staged settings and she then paints her subjects with such precision that they are often mistaken as photographs. This amalgamation of the coarse and the refined, the real and the surreal, invites viewers to question the authenticity of our visually saturated world.


    Detail of the present lot


    A Panther That Doesn’t Bite


    A Tender Panther stands out as a quintessential example of Sun Yitian's mastery in manipulating perceptions of material texture and light. At first glance, as a consistent feature of her works, the painting can easily be mistaken for a photograph due to its hyper-realistic portrayal. The panther, rendered in vibrant hues of yellow, black and red, exudes a tactile presence, with its glossy surface reflecting light as though it were a real, inflated balloon. However, upon closer inspection, Sun reveals to us the imperfections through her intentional brushstrokes—subtle seams and creases that run along the edges and trace the contours of the balloon animal, acting as a reminder that her subject  is one that is manufactured. 

    The panther is more than just a subject in the present work and could readily be perceived as a commentary on the glossy façade of modern life. Placed under artificial lighting, the panther appears simultaneously misplaced and entirely comfortable, highlighting the reciprocal relationship between natural and human-made environments, which shapes the world we inhabit, as one that is of great complexity, with each exerting influence on each other. Sun's colour combination and dramatic shadows do not merely mimic reality, but magnify it substantially, drawing the viewer into her unique whimsical world and to questioning and challenging the blurred boundaries between the real and manufactured.


    From Canvas to Couture


    In this era of artistic experimentation and exploration, Sun Yitian's influence extends beyond the gallery walls into the realms of fashion and design, most notably through her recent collaboration with luxury fashion house Louis Vuitton. In this instance, fashion becomes a medium for artistic expression and this partnership saw Sun translate her distinctive visual language into a capsule collection that merged art with fashion, breathing life into her vibrant, fantastical creatures.  


    The collaboration was not only a celebration of Sun’s artistic vision and Louis Vuitton’s craftsmanship, but it demonstrates the shared desire to push boundaries and explore new avenues of artistic expression. This fusion of art and fashion brings a fresh perspective and challenges traditional notions of what constitutes art and what belongs in fashion. As designers are incorporating elements of fine art, such as painting, sculpture, and conceptual ideas, into their garments and runway presentations as well as collaborating with visual artists to integrate their work into fashion shows and campaigns, artists are also embracing fashion as a means of conveying their artistic vision beyond the confines of a gallery or a museum.  Sun’s iconic inflatable toy motifs were reimagined as intricate fabric patterns, transforming the French maison’s classic accessories and apparel into collectible pieces of wearable art. This endeavour broadened the scope of Sun's artistic influence and showcased her remarkable aptitude in navigating and harmoniously bridging diverse creative industries, which further cements her status as China’s “IT” artist.


    Louis Vuitton in collaboration with Sun Yitian’s Peep at Two Worlds with One Eye series
    Image: Artist’s Instagram


    Louis Vuitton in collaboration with Sun Yitian, parfume Heures d'Absence


    Collector’s Digest


    Born in 1991 in Zhejiang, China, Sun Yitian graduated from CAFA, Beijing in 2015 and earned her Master's in 2018. She is currently pursuing a doctorate in Literature at Tsinghua University. Sun employs painting, installation, performance, and fashion to explore themes of consumerism, labour, and production. Her photo-realistic works critically address the interplay between seduction, fear, as well as materiality. Her notable shows include Bordercrossing: Possibilities and Interactions at Yuz Museum, Shanghai (2023), "Projection" at Sifang Art Museum, Nanjing (2023), Nián Nián: The Power and Agency of Animal Forms, Deji Art Museum, Nanjing (2023) and The Infinite Conversation: 2022 Beijing Biennial Symbiosis, National Base for International Cultural Trade, Beijing (2022). Sun's works are held in prestigious collections such as White Rabbit Gallery, Sydney; Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar; By Art Matters, Hangzhou; Longlati Foundation, Shanghai; M WOODS, Beijing; Yuz Museum, Shanghai; Sifang Art Museum, Nanjing and Long Museum, Shanghai, etc.

    • Provenance

      BANK/MABSOCIETY, Shanghai
      Acquired from the above by the present owner



A Tender Panther

signed, titled and dated '"A Tender Panther", Sun Yitian [in Chinese], 2017' on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
150 x 150 cm. (59 x 59 in.)
Painted in 2017.

Full Cataloguing

HK$600,000 - 900,000 

Sold for HK$1,651,000

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2027

Modern & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 31 May 2024