The Belgian art collector Baron Guy Ullens is renowned for his museum-quality holdings of early works by important contemporary Chinese artists, 106 of which he is selling on April 3 at Sotheby's Hong Kong.
Zhang Xiaogang (b. 1958)
Forever Lasting Love (Triptych), 1988
Est. HK$25 – 30 million / US$3.2 – 3.8 million
The highlight of the The Ullens Collection is Zhang Xiaogang’s Forever Lasting Love, which was exhibited in the China / Avant-Garde Exhibition in 1989, and is the magnum opus from Zhang Xiaogang’s early artistic career. As a key member of the Southwestern Art Research Group, Zhang and other artists from Kunming were strongly influenced by Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, prompting them to search for new artistic expression. One of their exhibition manifestos reads as follows: “Foremost is touching people’s souls, rather than pleasing their eyes.” The large-scale Forever Lasting Love depicts primitive men and women with exposed upper bodies posing in nature. A strong vitality permeates a background dominated by tawny yellow, which represents the earth, brimming with fervent praise of life. Without any ostensible religious narrative, men and women, babies, sheep, and heads trapped inside cages are juxtaposed in this triptych filled with mystical symbols. Questioning life in the most primal manner, as if conversing at a distance with Post-Impressionist master Paul Gauguin, this masterpiece crystallises the early artistic ideas of the artist.
Zhang Peili (b. 1957)
Series “X?” No. 3, 1986
Est. HK$1.5 – 2.5 million / US$190,000 – 320,000
Creation of Zhang Peili’s Series “X?” began in 1986 after the artist exhibited works on subject matters of swimming and saxophone in the ‘85 New Space exhibition. The largest specimen of the series, Series “X?” No. 3 portrays a pair of surgical rubber gloves. Utilising light brown
colour in realistic brushstrokes, the artist brings out a cruel and inhuman ambience. This work was used as cover art for Issue 45, 1987, Zhongguo Meishubao (Fine Arts in China), the most influential art magazine of the time. Zhang believes that artists should keep a distance from their works, and that drawing and painting are not expressions of an individual’s character. The surgical rubber gloves are embedded with complex symbols, they “have properties that are between matter and life, constituting a juxtaposition of the restrictions on life and the desire to be protected”, just as life is filled with questions and mysteries. The ambiguity and indetermination typical of literature run through the “X?”
Series, posing questions and provoking thought. A testament to Zhang’s early genius, the “X?” Series was a precursor to his subsequent series of oil paintings and installations.
Geng Jianyi (b. 1962)
Two People Under a Light, 1985
Est. HK$1 – 1.5 million / US$130,000 – 190,000
Zhang Peili is a graduate of the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts and co-founder of the Pond Society, an important driving force of the Chinese avant-garde. Two People Under a Light is Geng Jianyi’s graduation project at the Academy. Grave and stern in style and markedly different from the mainstream of Chinese art at the time, the work created controversy at its unveiling and was one of the most talked-about works of the movement. A man and a woman, completely deprived of interaction, are respectively seated in the foreground and background while looking at the viewer, displaying no emotion at all, as the man’s eyes are further obstructed by his glasses. In this work, stark colour contrasts accentuate the alienation that has been brought about as a result of urbanization as well as
estrangement between human beings. This is among the first works of contemporary Chinese art that tackles the issue of urbanity.
“I have reached the stage of my collecting journey where it is time to share some of the wealth of my collection with other collectors. This will enable me to continue to work with new and emerging artists, as has been my passion since I began this collection over twenty years ago. I am particularly excited at the group selected for this sale, as most of these works have rarely been seen publicly, and this sale will provide a unique opportunity for people to experience an extraordinary moment in the development of contemporary Chinese art.”
- Baron Guy Ullens
Wang Guangyi (b. 1957)
Mao Zedong: P2, 1988
Est. HK$1.5 – 2 million / US$190,000 – 260,000
In response to the sensationalism and over-zealous personality cults in the Cultural Revolution, Wang Guangyi advocated “the liquidation of the enthusiasm of humanity”, applying rational, almost logical analysis in painting. Created in 1988, Mao Zedong: P2 was one of the earliest works of Wang’s Mao Zedong series.
The Ullens Collection – The Nascence of Avant Garde China
Sotheby’s Hong Kong