With today’s top Chinese contemporary artists’ work selling well into the millions, the art world is abuzz with rumors of a bubble. Imminent correction or no, the mid to long term looks very rosy for the few Chinese artists that manage to elbow their way to the front of the pack, as well as for those who buy their work early. Here are three promising artists whose work is still in the affordable range, but whose reputations are hitting critical mass.
A prominent disciple of the “cynical realism” school, Fang dialogues with his peers through his work, particularly superstar Yue Minjun. He interprets Yue’s ubiquitous “laughing man” as representative of the millions of yes-men who worship whatever doctrine is handed out to the masses, be it the Red Book or the American Dream. While his work is therefore first and foremost critical of Chinese society and its hypocrisies, his colors and compositions sit well with many who are more concerned with aesthetic appeal than contextual.
The piece below, from his “Tolerance” series, contains both critique and solution. While the laughing monks remind us of an increasingly avaricious culture, the insect, which appears in all his recent work, is a subtle clue to the redemption of ancient Oriental philosophy. While the West would have us believe that man is nature’s highest expression, the East sees him as one small part of nature’s glory. By holding close to and observing nature, Fang reminds us, man experiences his only real freedoms. His work currently ranges from 30,000 to 60,000 RMB.
A relative youngster, Fan Jia nevertheless paints from the perspective of a surreal chronicler of mankind. Much of his work evokes that of Hieronymus Bosch, the 15th Century Flemish visionary, what with his grotesque figures, broken egg shells, and unforgettable scenes of heaven and hell on earth.
The piece below is typical of his style. A casual viewer can pick up on the east-meets-west motif. But the swirling ocean and graded luminescence speak to the archetypal supra-conscious we all share. Unlike Bosch, Fan leaves us in doubt as to whether his subjects are experiencing salvation or perdition. A truly profound young Chinese painter, his work ranges from 16,000 – 68,000 RMB.
Nothing about Shen Xiaonan bespeaks his rare artistic gift. Whereas the typical contemporary artist cultivates eccentricity in manner and appearance, Shen is modest yet affable, and gives most of his time outside of the studio to teaching sculpture at the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute.
There is little of the East-meets-West theme evident in his work, although he did collaborate recently with two other sculptors on a “Tennis Terra-cotta Warrior” series that featured the iconic soldiers wielding rackets. In his solo work, however, his style ranges widely, and while one can detect influences of masters like Rodin in one piece or Marini in another, he is increasingly becoming regarded as an artist of singular genius.
In “Woman with Mirror”, Shen has given us a nude with universal sensibilities, and touches of the whimsy for which his New Wave generation is famed. Limbs foreshortened, but not to the point of absurdity, the woman and her relationship to the mirror are inscrutable. Most of Shen’s work can be purchased for under 100,000RMB.