Wang Qingsong’s art comments on the consumer merchandise and commercial imagery that has flooded the Chinese market over the past two decades. In the late 1990s, Wang gained notoriety as a proponent of ‘gaudy art’, a term coined by the Chinese art critic Li Xianting to express the appropriation by artists of kitsch motifs from popular culture and the media. Although he began as a painter, Wang soon moved into photography. His photographs are characterised by theatrical, highly constructed sets and poses that draw on elements of traditional art, socialist realism and commercial iconography.
China Red 2008–09 is based on Wang’s 2004 photograph Competition, which depicts a team of people pasting billboard posters onto an enormous wall. The posters in the installation are painted by Wang using traditional brush-and-ink as well as felt-tip pen, and feature a random selection of slogans and brand names promoting everything from multinational companies to domestic services. Many of the products they promote are manufactured in China, although the brand names are not Chinese, pointing to a sense of anxiety as to the country’s status as the ‘factory of the world’.
The work recalls the political ‘big character’ posters that were plastered on walls during the Cultural Revolution, as well as the advertising that dominates the streets of urban China today. As the artist has said, ‘The struggle for ad placement in public space in China is not unlike a battlefield strewn with casualties . . . Every day, new ads go up, and old ones fall down . . . On my gigantic wall, I make the fight for advertising as fierce as a struggle for military power’.