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Xiehe Hospital Series Triptych, 1992 – Zeng Fanzhi
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About the item

Zeng Fanzhi\nXiehe Hospital Series Triptych\n1992\nTriptych: oil on canvas.\n70 1/2 x 183 1/8 in. (179.1 x 465.1 cm) overall.\nSigned and dated “Fanzhi 92” along lower edge; also signed and titled “ ‘Xiehe Triptych’ Zeng Fanzhi” on the reverse.
US
NY, US
US

year

1992

notes

Zeng Fanzhi was born in 1964 in Wuhan. He dropped out of middle school, but then won a place in the Hubei Academy of Fine Arts in 1988. While at the Academy he developed a deep interest in German and American Expressionism—in particular the work of Raoul Dufy and Willem de Kooning, whose techniques he greatly admired. Li Xianting, the éminence grise of Chinese contemporary art, was suitably impressed by Zeng’s work while he was still in the Academy and began promoting the young artist’s work to influential critics and dealers.Zeng’s uncanny ability to bare the souls of his subjects on canvas first emerged powerfully in his Meat and Hospital series. The genesis of these two series lay in a butcher’s shop and the Xiehe Hospital that the young artist passed almost daily. In Zeng’s eyes, cruelty was prevalent throughout the world: not only in the physical suffering he witnessed in the sick, lingering cattle-like in waiting rooms, but also in the myriad specters of psychological brutality that preyed on individual souls. Zeng recalls his moment of inspiration: “Everyday I saw numerous people queuing to see the doctor. I saw patients in mortal danger who needed emergency treatment. I suddenly felt that this was the emotion I had to portray; I needed to paint a series with this feeling. I thought about a large-scale piece and utilized all the techniques, skills, and methods of observation I had previously used in my solo exhibition, and I was particularly excited during this period. I was very satisfied when the painting was completed. The next day I wanted to take it to the academy to show the teachers before the paint was dry.” (F. Zeng, in an interview with X. Li, “A Restless Soul,” I/We: The Painting of Zeng Fanzhi 1991 – 2003, Hubei, 2003, p. 156)Zeng has created only three Hospital triptychs, of which the present lot is the second. Xiehe Hospital was presented at his graduation exhibition in 1992 to an extraordinary reception. The triptych is a monumental, intricate tableau of suffering and redemption. Each panel features a congregation of gaunt bodies gathered against a darkly grim background; but for the red crosses on the doctors’ and nurses’ uniforms, the setting could well evoke a concentration camp. In the central panel, a haunting interpretation of Michelangelo’s Pieta presents the compassionate nurse cradling an anonymous patient’s corpse. On the right, a second nurse who recalls Mary Magdalene offers spiritual but not physical redemption in her solicitous tendering to the supplicant bystander, while the patients crowded on the bed below lie at the mercy of a hospital attendant’s cigarette ash. The left panel is perhaps the bleakest of the three, in which the saint-like figure presiding over the trio of bodies directly fixes the viewer with a gaze that is omniscient, but bleached of hope.Critics perceived Xiehe Hospital, painted in the crucial period of the artist’s formative years, as emblematic of Zeng’s perspective on social relations as well as an expression of his own melancholy. Li Xianting’s comment on the work practically reads Xiehe Hospital as a metaphor for the socio-political conditions of life in an emerging market economy and its attenuant Darwinist tendencies: “In the relationship between a hospital and its patients, Zeng Fanzhi expresses a sense of masochism and sado-masochism. The doctors appear to grin menacingly; the patients lie pathetically on the beds, seemingly calm, waiting. But the entire picture plane is dominated by a sense of unease, especially marked in the bruised redness of the flesh against the cool tones of white. Using expressionistic brushstrokes, he uncovers the acrid odor of blood and danger.” (X. Li, in H. Wu, ed., The First Guangzhou Triennial – Reinterpretation: A Decade of Experimental Chinese Art (1990 – 2000), Guangdong, 2002, p. 174) Zhu Bin’s interpretation is somewhat kinder: “the Xiehe triptych portrays a group of heartbroken and spiritless people with its new expressionistic style and powerful painting vocabulary. Within the dull looks in the faces one can feel the kindness and sympathy through the brushstrokes. Language and main content are both appropriately announced – this is a sign of maturity in art.” (B. Zhu, Ideal and Practice, Sichuan, 1992, p. 281) In contrast, Huang Du perceives the work less as deliberate social commentary but rather as a natural externalization of its creator’s sadness and keen observation. “(When) I saw “Hospital Triptych (1992),” his graduation work, [I was] much surprised by the expressionistic style in it—wild strokes of Dufy and de Kooning’s free use of strength; most importantly, he presented daily experience, memories in life and personal moods. All those lively pictures result from the artist’s subjective exaggeration and transformation: bloody flesh color, wild brushwork and terrified eyes of the images are all from careful observation and sublimation of daily life. The savage face of the doctor, panic and depression of the patient, embodying the imbroglio of life and death are also a release of the artist’s depression and melancholy.” (D. Huang, “Abstractness between ‘intentional’ and ‘unintentional,’ Shanghart Gallery, Scapes: The Paintings of Zeng Fanzhi 1989-2004, Shanghai, 2004, p. 6).After the Xiehe Hospital Series Zeng began to concentrate on individual portraiture, producing few works that feature multiple characters in the intricate, large-scale compositions of this early series. Zeng Fanzhi is today one of China’s most innovative and revered contemporary artists. His work continues to explore portraits of individual psyche and identity expressed through a blend of figuration and abstraction.

title

Xiehe Hospital Series Triptych

medium

Triptych: oil on canvas.

signed

Signed and dated “Fanzhi 92” along lower edge; also signed and titled “ ‘Xiehe Triptych’ Zeng Fanzhi” on the reverse.

creator

Zeng Fanzhi

exhibited

Guangdong, Guangzhou Convention Center, The First Guangzhou Biennale, 1992; Shanghai, Shanghai Art Museum, I/We, 1991-2003: The Painting of Zeng Fanzhi, 2003

dimensions

70 1/2 x 183 1/8 in. (179.1 x 465.1 cm) overall.

literature

J. Huang, ed., Contemporary Art of China 1989 – 92, Jiangsu, 1994, pp. 133-134 (ill.); M. Gao, Contemporary Chinese Art Volumes: Analysis of Oil Painting 1979-1999, Hubei, 1999, p. 62 (illustrated); P. Lu, “Story of a State of Mind,” The Painting of Zeng Fanzhi, p. 11 (illustrated); Shanghart Gallery, Raw Beneath the Mask, Shanghai, 2001, p. 5 (illustrated); H. Wu, ed., The First Guangzhou Triennial – Reinterpretation: A Decade of Experimental Chinese Art (1990 – 2000), Guangdong, 2002, pp. 174-175 (ill.); Art China, Volume 2 Number 3, 2003, p. 48 (illustrated); I/We: The Painting of Zeng Fanzhi 1991 – 2003, Hubei, 2003, pp.24-25 (illustrated); Shanghart Gallery, Scapes: The Paintings of Zeng Fanzhi 1989-2004, Shanghai, 2004, p. 6 (illustrated)

provenance

Acquired directly from the artist


*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.


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