Wang Qingsong by Nicky Combs 2001

Wang Qingsong

Nicky Combs, 2001

Wang Qingsong supplies a wicked impression of life in contemporary China through his personal observations on modern culture. His computer-manipulated photographs richly reflect a playful but serious opinion on the rapid changes within China's society. As China's developing economy continues to create an environment conducive to economic, cultural, and artistic change, areas such as consumer culture have been affected, challenging existing boundaries. Reactions to the economic development have greatly influenced that art produced in China within the past two decades. As a contemporary artist, Wang Qingsong looks to the immediate environment for inspiration, thus infusing his works with emotion generated by what is taking place around him.

His selected artistic language is not unlike that of the Chinese pop movement of the mid-1980s. He, too, incorporates brand names with pop art characteristics, yet creates colorful, kitsch, and amusing, yet intelligent comments on the changing environment. Wang Qingsong's works exemplify a national attitude toward contemporary life in China. Aware of the influx of the consumer culture, the growing materialism and commercialism, he stages scenes, which are recorded and preserved forever in a photography. A distinct aspect of his work is the use of self-portraits as icons which question the directions in which his culture is turning. Wang Qingsong accords himself a role in an art that combines tradition with the sense of everyday life.

In Requesting Buddha No.1, he converts traditional Buddhist imagery into a contemporary pop image. Seated upon a Coca-Cola throne, the multi-armed Bodhisattva/artist holds named brand items like Kodak film and Marlboro cigarettes, money, gold and CDs. The influence of American Pop Art, consumer society and popular mass culture are clear, but the strong, culturally specific icons and nationalist feel offer a wholly Chinese comment on China. Western and eastern culture are further mixed in his bowtie and Buddhist necklace. By portraying himself as a thousand-armed Bodhisattva holding familiar modern products, Wang Qingsong enforces the coexistence of past and present, art and culture, traditional and colloquial.

Wang Qingsong again portrays himself as a Buddhist figure in The Thinker, this time in an aura of meditative emptiness. The irony is blatant in the McDonald's logo emblazoned on his chest. Here, Wang Qingsong skillfully juxtaposes China's religious past and cultural icons with popular western commercial names. The philosophical ideas of Buddhism combined with the recognizable McDonald's motif. He chooses to highlight commercialization in a less than serious manner by referencing product names with Buddhist motifs to effect a satirical comment on society past and present. His works demonstrate the rapid growth of consumer society, as well as the influence of western aesthetic and material culture, which can be seen to be increasingly dominant in China since the 1980s.

Wang Qingsong admits, " When our country put economic development before all other national policies, China was changed and its people were changed even more. The slogan ' one change a year, one big change in three years, and one unidentifiable transformation in five years', demonstrates the wide panorama of contemporary Chinese society."

He boldly displays this fact in images, which pit tradition against modernity, fiction against reality, and desire against necessity. Catcher, 1998, exemplifies the fusion of western and Chinese societal desires with its reference to Christian imagery, mobile phones and cans of Coca-Cola. For Wang Qingsong this work has a happy, contemporary feeling, suggested by the colorful butterflies floating around the Christ figure -- again Wang Qingsong himself -- who hangs before a beautiful sunset.

With a strong awareness of the social changes China is experiencing, Wang Qingsong and his contemporaries confront these ideas and blend them with popular culture, producing works that force the viewer to consider what is going on in present-day society. China's push for modernization has not only affected the economy, but also cultural identity and art. The concerns facing artists today are inevitably influenced by this phenomenon. Wang Qingsong's works offer a social commentary with personal views on change, encompassing the judgment and critique of an emerging, global culture in an intelligible and at times amusing way.

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