Chinese Contemporary in Beijing and 10 Chancery Lane Gallery in Hong Kong are pleased to present the works of Huang Rui in two simultaneous solo shows featuring top works from the past fourteen years of his career. “Chairman Mao 10,000 RMB” is Huang Rui’s first solo show in Mainland China, and presents an important opportunity to view firsthand a survey of works by one of China’s most influential contemporary art figures.
An original founder of the avant-garde art Stars in 1979 and now vocal advocate for the 798ArtDistrict, Huang Rui is an artist whose works avoids easy taxonomy. Over the years his works have taken on many forms. Most of them are characterized by a spirit of rebelliousness and an interest in exploring how the human condition faces up to the impenetrable walls of authority. The works on view in “Chairman Mao 10,000 RMB” speak to China’s modern leadership in transition and the paradoxes posed by the ideological collision between socialism and capitalism up to the present day.
On initial approach, Huang Rui’s works convey a daring simplicity, captured by the clean geometry and symmetry of his installation works and the consistent reliance on primary colors in his paintings and sculptures. All of his works stand alone as objects of beauty. At the same time, Huang Rui is a highly socially engaged artist who incorporates important political and historical references into his works. He has a particular fascination with Chinese political slogans from the 1980s reform era, which, using tidy, controlled brushstrokes, are deliberately enlarged on stark white canvases. In Selected Works of Mao Zedong (Volumes One - Four) (1996) and (Volumes 5-6) (2006), Huang Rui’s deeply felt urge to approach the turbulent history of the past contrasts with the orderly form of the words that he paints. The deliberate separation of text from context only serves to further illuminate the weight of history that compelled Huang Rui and those in his circle to fight for alternative modes of stylistic expression at a time when engaging in experimental art was still exhilaratingly edgy and bold. Minimalism in form is not driven by abstraction per se, but draws attention to the layers of significance encapsulated by the text itself.
Times have changed but basic philosophical issues surrounding Chinese modernity continue to loom large. The feature work of this show, and the one that the artist himself deems to be the most important is Chairman Mao 10,000 RMB (2006) - a set of bright red acrylic panels embedded with brand new Chinese banknotes totaling precisely 10,000 RMB in cut-out characters that read “Mao Zhuxi Wan Sui!” or “Long Live Chairman Mao!”. In Huang Rui’s words, “This is China today” – a society where Mao’s socialist legacy has been starkly replaced by an unquestioning faith in the cult of cash. The characters, which are each over one meter high, echo both the ubiquitous big character posters of the Cultural Revolution as well as super-sized billboard advertisements that now wallpaper Beijing’s highways and skyscrapers. His decision to use “Renminbi” bills displays his characteristic ability to use sarcastic humor to distill disorderly social realities into more fundamental concepts, in this case pertaining to the complicated nexus between politics, commerce, and art.
Nearly three decades since the formation of the Stars, and years since his return from self-exile in Japan, Huang Rui’s works continue to be inextricably linked to the society that he lives in. It is only appropriate that it be held in the Dashanzi Art District, 798, a place that he has helped to create and transform into the vibrant cultural hub that it is today.