Auction | China Guardian (HK) Auctions Co., Ltd.
2023 Spring Auctions > Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art
Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art

Mao Xuhui (b.1956)
The Vocabulary of Power No.9(Painted in 1993)

Oil on canvas

180 × 130 cm. 70 7/8 × 51 1/8 in.

Dated and signed in Chinese on bottom right; Titled and signed in Chinese and dated on the reverse

2008, Road – Mao Xuhui's Paintings (1973-2007), Shanghai People's Fine Arts Publishing House, Shanghai, p. 200
Acquired directly by present private Asian collector from the artist

The Taste of Life: Decoding, Restart, and Departure Once Again
Mao Xuhui's Significant Transition in the 90s: The Vocabulary of Power No.9

In the history of contemporary Chinese art, Mao Xuhui is “a real existentialist who would rather experience life than chase after fame or fortune.” In the trends of “the New Wave Movement” (or the '85 New Wave) and the nineties' Political Pop, Mao Xuhui featured New Figuration and collaborated the artists, including Zhang Xiaogang, to organize an independent group, Southwest Art Research Group, which can be considered as his response towards how to locate avant-garde art in the dialogues between the subject and the object, the individual and the era. When he creates artworks, Mao highlights the individual values in the historical tide, questing for a precise and powerful realistic expression. Mao achieved his first artistic climax in his series of Patriarchs in 1989 when he triggered a profound reflection on the language of “power”.

Developing from the thesis of Patriarch, which delivers the authority of the chair and the images of patriarchs, his 1993 series of The Vocabulary of Power turns to more concrete, symbolic, and critical discussion on objects, deepening the core elucidation of “power”. These works highlight the qualities of “simplicity, solitude, and enlargement.” In The Vocabulary of Power No.9, finished in 1993, he adopts a unique and ambitious narration to present only one character——a key. From this work, we will also discover the start of Mao's “centrality of the object” in his later series work Scissor.

The “key” first came into sight in Mao's iconic triptych '92 Patriarch. The image of key also appeared in the series paintings of The Vocabulary of Power in the exhibition of Chinese Art Since the 1990s: Chinese Experience at the Sichuan Art Museum in 1993, becoming a representative symbol of Mao's works apart from “scissor” and “chair”. This time, The Vocabulary of Power No.9 at auction is the key work marking “key” as Mao's pivotal representation.

With Sign of Power Soaring, Dramatic Life Sets Out

In this work, Mao consistently applies a sombre dark-toned background, while the three-dimensional spatial structure and the theatrical single-point perspective break the facade of calmness and channel the audience into a space of reality and strangeness. The bold strokes and distinct lines construct an intense and penetrating radiation making the image of the key at the centre become the ultimate key answer emerging from the deepest underground. The sign is infinitely enlarged in front of the viewers' eyes, generating an absurdity in ordinary vision, an outbreak of depression, and a dazzling visual strike in chaos.

Mao juxtaposes the squares on the two sides of the painting with dripping red pigments, which may remind the audience of rows of named and categorized file cabinets. At this moment, in the endless corridor of life, the key becomes the only guide as a sign of the ultimate words of power. On the 180-centimetre grand canvas, the exaggerated key resembles a divine advent which, in terms of the “opening” function of materiality, is endowed with a symbolic language of “spiritual worship”. The work seems to tell us that in the journey of human life, all we experience and memorize will be archived in these file folders among which we receive God's inspirations and quest for goodness, power, and the truth by decoding and advancing.

Invisible Spiritual Pattern, Dialectical Dual Metaphor

The painting embodies Mao's representation of reality and a dialectical dual reflection on that: the key can not only lock something but also open something; it symbolizes the possessor's authority and the spiritual power of enlightenment. Blockade or opening? It depends on the one who holds the key. The artist establishes and magnifies the representation of “power” through the daily object, reflecting the invisible power beneath its ordinary appearance. As the famous American futurist, Alvin Toffler, wrote in The Great Future, “Humans are the products of power. Power is still the most unknown but important part of our lives.”

Price estimate:
HKD: 750,000 – 950,000
USD: 95,500 – 121,000

Auction Result:
HKD: --



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