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  • Provenance

    Private collection, Europe

  • Catalogue Essay

    The Coca-Cola brand bears especial significance in contemporary Chinese art history for directly inspiring Wang Guangyi’s renowned Great Criticism series. Wang’s series, which was exhibited at the 45th Venice Biennale in 1993, is internationally acclaimed for its revolutionary combination of Chinese propaganda-era images with Western consumer brands. In an advertisement-worthy moment, the artist experienced his “Eureka!” moment whilst leafing through a book with a Coke in hand. “I put the can down to turn a page and suddenly, I found that the posturing of the soldier-peasant workers against the Coca-Cola logo made strong visual sense. The more I looked the more intrigued I became. In content and style, both graphics are the product of two very different cultural backgrounds, and each totally embodied its own fantastic kind of ideology.” (K. Smith, Nine Lives: The Birth of Avant-Garde Art in China, Zurich, 2005, p. 61)

    The first ideology that Wang refers to is, of course, the revolutionary ideals of Communist-era China. The second is the market ideology of capitalism—one diametrically opposed to Mao’s ideals, yet not so different in its captivating sway over the Chinese populace. As one of the first Western companies to enter the Chinese market, the Coca-Cola Company truly symbolizes the global multinational that Wang’s series centers around. Coca-Cola was one of the first Western companies to enter China, building its first bottling plants on the Chinese mainland in 1927. Today, the company has made tremendous inroads into the domestic Chinese soft drink market, of which it commands approximately half the overall share.

    Each brand in the Great Criticism series takes on a unique connotation based on the product’s overall image and its particular relationship to China. Luxury brands such as Chanel and Gucci most powerfully represent the status-conscious material aspirations of Chinese consumers; Nike recalls the stigma of sweatshop exploitation; the WTO heralds China’s integration into the global economy. In this context, Coca-Cola’s strategy of close partnerships with local Chinese businesses and high levels of knowledge transfer has resulted in generally positive associations for its brand both within and outside China. The company’s high degree of integration into Chinese supply systems and its enormous share of the beverage market symbolize one multinational corporation’s success story in the developing tale of globalization. As such, Great Criticism: Coca-Cola can be read not merely as a critique of Western capitalist hegemony, but rather as emblematic of one strategy for positive foreign participation in this era of China’s economic ascendancy.

74

Great Criticism- Coca Cola

2004
Oil and graphite on canvas.
78 3/4 x 118 in. (200 x 299.7 cm).
Signed and dated “2004 Wang Guangyi” on the reverse.

Estimate
$200,000 - 300,000 

Sold for $432,000

Contemporary Art Part I

17 May 2007
7pm New York