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Xenia Pi?ch



Most artists in China's so-called avant-garde circle adopt Western media as a form of expression. Zhu Wei does not. Rather, he sees himself as the single artist who pushes the age-old Chinese painting tradition, both in content and style, into the contemporary.

Zhu Wei's images are a mosaic of commentaries based on social and political issues that the artist observes in his daily surroundings. They portray Zhu Wei coming to terms with himself in China's contemporary urban society in general, and the politically laden capital, Beijing, in particular. His images are neither objective nor distanced. The viewer sees the world through Zhu Wei's eyes and thus follows the fantastic roving of his mind where time, place, and space coalesce.

It is Zhu Wei's incisive observations and laconic humour that make his artwork so persuasive. The direct, intense, and sometimes even overbearing visual presence of his compositions, as well as their painterly diction, are rooted in China's propaganda art.  However, the technically refined and meticulous brushwork reflects his scrupulous training in traditional Chinese painting techniques.

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Zhu Wei was born on the eve of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, the son of medical doctors working in the People's liberation Army (PLA). Historical circumstance would make him come of age in a world where individuality was frowned upon and deemed irrelevant. Hong Ying vividly describes this emotional landscape in her novel Summer of Betrayal:

... under the brilliant glare of the shining Red Sun we grew

up pale and thin, hiding in dark, gray corners. Our youth

was spent in the emptiness attendant upon a loss of faith,

in ferocious attention in all kinds of hope, but when we

wanted to cash in on them we discovered that the world

is not built on hope alone. So the first half of our lives has

been a series of contradictions. If there's going to be a

second half, it can only mean drifting along from day to

day resigned to circumstances, competing to be good at

feigning ignorance (1)

Yet, Zhu Wei has no intention of feigning ignorance or of succumbing to the various traumas that mark his generation. Despite the turbulent circumstances of his youth, he has developed a distinct -- though often torn -- sense of self. Seeing himself as a chronicler of an era, Zhu Wei stresses: "Unlike other contemporary artists, there is no direct political intention in my art."(2) Yet looking at his oeuvre, it is clear that Zhu Wei is deeply critical of China's social and political situation and that his works aim to confront, to startle, and to indict.

Zhu Wei's intense need to seek and reveal the truth behind the facades of everyday life underlies his artistic creations. More often than not, he displays his findings with a prickly dry humor to emphasize the absurdities he finds. Even in real life interactions, Zhu Wei frequently reveals a similar playfulness and disjointedness. For example, he told a reporter interviewing him on a series of paintings with obvious humouristic undertones that he is not a funny person at all and actually often felt gloomy. When the reporter, taking him seriously, probed further, Zhu Wei replied that the only thing that can make him happy is "drinking beer."(3)

A perfectionist to the core, Zhu Wei appreciates the meticulous labour that goes into the creation of his works. He uses a xuan paper (a special type of paper used in traditional Chinese painting), produced exclusively according to his detailed specifications, and carefully textures the background of each work. Depending on the size of the painting, Zhu Wei applies the first layer of colour either on the incised stone plates in his yard or on the finer rack inside the studio. After drying, the paper is treated once more on a more detailed surface, such as a sisal carpet. The often quite dominant background textures in his works are thus adjusted to the mood he aims to transmit. Depending on the scale --some of Zhu Wei’s works are up to three meters in height and two meters in width --the paintings are grafted together from several sheets of paper. When working on large compositions, Zhu Wei uses a small prototype of the image so that the shades and colour gradations of each section fit in with the overall composition and reveal a cohesive whole.

Zhu Wei’s hand, his application of Chinese ink and pigments, is unmistakable. During his education at the Art College of the People’s Liberation Army, he mastered the fine brush technique. According to his teacher, Liu Tiancheng, Zhu Wei assiduously trained himself in the styles of the famous Tang and Song dynasty masters, as well as the figure painting style of the Five Dynasties. He researched early Buddhist and Daoist mural art and studied the pictorial representations on Han dynasty pricks. Internalizing these traditional techniques as well as the language of propaganda art, for which he was trained, Zhu Wei developed his particular visual vocabulary.

Zhu Wei vehemently detests any kind of categorization of himself or his art along the assigned lineages of contemporary Chinese art production, such as Political Pop or Cynical Realism. He keeps to himself, both personally and professionally. Similarly, Zhu Wei has seldom shown his works alongside his peers and does not spend evenings together with them discussing the underpinning of their approaches. Zhu Wei wants us to experience the multi-layered aspects of his works and to see his as an independent voice. Although using some of its visual tools, he clearly counters the homogenous nature of propaganda art.

Zhu Wei works in series. As a result, and despite his reluctance Io allow classification, the artist's impressively large oeuvre --close to one thousand recorded pieces - already includes mine pre-existing caesuras. Furthermore, a number of thematic continuities can also be identified. Apart from issues relating to the artist’s psychology, they include his observations on the political and social fabric of contemporary society. The following selection consists of ten works that Zhu Wei completed between 1994 and 2002. Belonging to several different series, they are analyzed according to two thematic topics.



One of the most conspicuous aspects often found in mainland Chinese contemporary art production of the 1980s and 1990s is its propagandistic aura. Although meant in the vein of dissent they all share a common root in the visual diction of Chinese propaganda art of earlier decades. As Geremie Barmé describes in his book on contemporary Chinese culture In the Red(4), dissident groups in mainland China "use the language of their enemies when writing their denunciations and attacking their foes at various forums."(5)

Zhu Wei was trained to produce propaganda images for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) during his education and is thus well versed in its rhetoric or, as Mikhail Epstein, calls it, "ideologemes."(6) The artist's visual vocabulary follows the same path, although with different intentions from his contemporaries and often with more subtlety. Compared to Wang Guangyi's Big Criticism series, for example, the ,critical articulations of Zhu Wei's works are decidedly more refined both visually and intellectually. Where the artist mixes in a pinch of his laconic humour, the viewer is faced with the strikingly bizarre scenes to which Zhu Wei bears witness.

The ideologemes created by the CCP are grafted together from various visual, literary, social and political sources, including traditional symbols that are deeply engrained in Chinese public memory. The evocation of famous masterpieces of the Chinese art historical canon and their subsequent subversion thus neatly fits into the dissident discourse of China's so called avant-garde art world.(7) Zhu Wei uses this tactic - down to the application of seals to imitate the traditional practice of identifying authorship and ownership - to lay bare the disconcerting daily realties he encounters. Comrades (1995)(fig. 1) and Pictures of the Strikingly Bizarre: Driving after Drinking (1994)(fig. 2) are some obvious examples.

The compositional structure as well as the formation and stature of the main figure in Comrades is visibly based on the third section of the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD) painting Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk (eighth century)(fig. 3). Instead of treating a roll of silk, Zhu Wei's central figure--whose physiognomy bales an uncanny resemblance to Mao Zedong's effeminate features--is in the process of dying red what used to be the British flag and thus patiently brings to life the likeness of the Communist Party flag. The allusion to Hong Kong's return to the Motherland is emphasized by the depiction of bauhinias, the Special Administrative Region's national flower, and the People's Liberation Army soldiers in the background.(8)

The "mood of languor and melancholy typically associated with court ladies"(9) that is evident in the Tang dynasty painting is coarsely interrupted by Zhu Wei's cartouches in this work. They cite, as the art critic Jia Fangzhou notes,(10) a popular underground poem from the revolutionary period in Russia:

Comrades, Comrades, you are high up and dry, what are

you dragging me into the mud for?

Moreover you spit at me. But, comrades, despite being

covered with mud and saliva I will still firmly stand amidst

your ranks.(11)

Contrary to the visual allusions, there is nothing docile or relined about the text that accompanies this painting. Rather, Zhu Wei voices China's resolution to walk as equals amongst the ranks of world leaders.(12) On a deeper level, however, Zhu Wei also addresses the price China's people had to pay for Mao's visions. The Chinese characters for "...you are high up and dry..." [gao yu gan] in the first stanza are uncannily close to those for ‘high ranking official' [gao (ji) gan (bu)]. The artists thus suggests, visually supported by the red drops of dye, that those high up rely on the blood of the people to accomplish their plans.

In Pictures of the Strikingly Bizarre: Serving the People,(13) the compositional arrangement of Mao Zedong in a sedan chair surrounded by his entourage is manifestly based on the corresponding section of another Tang dynasty painting, entitled The Imperial Sedan chair (fig. 4). The Tang work depict Emperor Taizong greeting the Tibetan minister, who came to welcome Princess Wecheng (Taizong’s daughter) as the bride-to-be of the Tibetan King.(14) The aura in this work is one of solemnity, poise, and authority.

In Zhu Wei’s painting, however, Chairman Mao is stripped of Taizong’s implied political superiority and dignity. The disproportionate representation of his body parts, the hot liquid he is being brought in a red cup inscribed with "Café," and the grimacing expressions of his followers all work together in deriding the strikingly comical veneration. Visually, Zhu Wei also plays a pun on the Chinese expression "blow the trumpet and carry someone in a sedan chair (chui laba, tai jiaozi), meaning to flatter rich and influential people. The irony is pushed further by the evocation of Mao Zedong’s famous phrase "Serving the People". The reality is that Mao was undoubtedly separated from the workers and peasants he clamed to serve. Rather, he was revered and waited on like a Chinese emperor by the cadres and the military, which profited from his power.

Zhu Wei is both cynical and disquieted with regard to the nostalgic revivalism of the Mao cult. In China Diary, No.7 (1995)(fig. 5) the viewer is taken into a traditional study room with young boys. A child-like figure bearing a clear resemblance to Mao Zedong and another, in an army uniform, are coaching some youths. The absence of the teacher allows them to fill the heads of the students with "dangerous ideas." What they are reading is a copy of the Records of the Strange, Second Volume,(15) a book that was traditionally blacklisted for youths as it was thought to instill negative tendencies in them. Another boy, probably in reference to the European origin of Marxist thought, is reading a text in Western alphabet.

The huge television in the background with the Great Helmsman --sporting a Red Guard armband --waving to the masses seems to function as an example of what fatal cataclysms Mao Zedong’s indoctrination sessions brought about. Alluding to his own experience of daily Mao Zedong Thought study, Zhu Wei puts himself into the painting. Little Zhu sits in the lower right corner but isn’t listening. Wearing headphones, he looks up sheepishly from flipping through a copy of his own first catalogue as an artist --identified by the title The Story of Beijing and the insignia of Zhu Wei’s sole agent, Plum Blossoms Gallery.

Zhu Wei also addresses the immense commercial value of the Mao cult by identifying the footage as a Channel V music video and by placing the television on a table--next to a bottle of Head and Shoulders shampoo--where one would traditionally expect to see scholar objects. The dream-lick time fractures in the image seem to underline the Mao Cult’s severe decontextualization of one of the darkest chapters in the history of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

In another painting, Zhu Wei commemorates--not without a pinch of dry humour--the still visibly decreasing influence of Mao Zedong’s ideology on contemporary Chinese life. In China Diary, No.4 (1995)(fig. 6) the viewer sees Mao playing a flute--a pun on the expression "drum-blow" (gu chui) meaning to advocate (revolution) or preach. Zhu Wei depicts Mao in a stage-like setting, but the theatre is closed, as the municipal seal on the door announces. Red flags, paper flowers, and the Gate of Heavenly Peace in the background evoke the ambiance of extravagant Cultural Revolution parades. Zhu Wei’s cartouches read:

Saxophone entered China. But actually ‘Bailemen’(16)

and ‘Angle’ mounted the stage first. Everyone knows them.

In the short 20s and 30s it already existed in the Western

influenced metropolis. (17)

After 1949, it slowly disappeared and during the Cultural

Revolution it was made to disappear even more. As a

representative of rotten art, it suffered doubly.

The 60s are gone. In 1994 Beijing held the first

international jazz festival.(18)

The Painting suggests that all of Mao’s propaganda tunes cannot stop the appreciation for Western music that had started in China in the early twentieth century. Now the Chairman sits on his stage but there is no one there to listen to him. If the viewer were not to read the cartouches, however, s/he could not have guessed that Zhu Wei is commenting on China’s first international jazz festival. He uses the visual vocabulary and iconography of the Cultural Revolution era to record a decidedly different event.

This dialectic relationship between Mao Zedong’s era and the contemporary shapes many of Zhu Wei’s works. The interlacing of text and image in these works is rooted in propaganda art’s didactic architecture. Yet, Zhu Wei undermine the government discourse, lays it bare and ridicules it. These works thus effuse an "ironic nostalgia" that Geremie Barmé situates in the realm of totalitarian nostalgia where the refurbished past is used to begin a new history.(19)



The rapid changes that Deng Xiaoping’s Open Door policy brought about are another important topic in Zhu Wei’s art. He poignantly depicts the people’s blinded transfixion by commercial prosperity(20) and unveils the current government’s cunning appropriation of Mao’s propaganda machinery. Working at full speed, it now dispenses to the people a new kind of opiate: material wealth.

In Box, No.3 (1995)(fig.7) Zhu Wei addresses China’s westernizing transformations. He depicts a traditionally dressed intellectual sitting at a bar and drinking Becks beer. He looks up at a parasol that is inscribed with the words "Raffles Hotel."(21) The West and its colonializing shadow appear to loom over the figure as he --critically eyed by a woman --seemingly proclaims:

Hey, I think the following. That flag wraps a box.

What actually is in the box, no one has ever seen.

Going back, that broken box is thrown away and

that ragged flag is ripped apart.


Tell the victor that he made a mistake. The world

already started to change long before.(22)

In these thoughts, Zhu Wei expresses his opposition to the deprecation of all things Western as well as the indiscriminate condemnation of all things traditional during Mao Zedong’s era. By including the banner of a pharmacy that claims to join Western and Chinese medicine and to be thus able to "heal the wounded and rescue the dying," Zhu Wei also voices his distrust for the current status quo. The banner seems to allude to the Chinese saying: "What kind of medicine is sold from the calabash?"(23) Zhu Wei thus questions the effect this miracle cure (i.e. westernized modernization) will actually have on Chinese society.

In Supreme Treatise on Moral Retribution, No.18 (2000)(fig. 8) Zhu Wei provides the viewer with an answer to the above question: it works like a drug. Zhu Wei most strongly expresses this physiological condition in the eyes of his figures. In their function as windows onto the soul, the eyes--either closed or open--take on the central role of transmitting emotion in Zhu Wei’s works and in this thematic context they are particularly dominant. The female figure seems to be in the process of swearing an allegiance, her eyes conveying reverence and submission. Similarly, the eyes of the two men in the background effuse transfixion mixed with a hint fascination and disbelief.

In the Chinese title of this painting, Zhu Wei alludes to Daoist beliefs of immortality. In Daoist lore a person that meets the celestial Laozi, the enigmatic father of Daoism, may be given a capsule imparting him/her with immortality. It is here that Zhu Wei draws the parallel with China’s contemporary situation. For the CCP Laozi’s capsule of immortality came in the form of economic modernization, giving the government a new lease on life. Moreover, as the figure’s expressions suggests, the populace’s striving for the material wealth propels an obsession similar to the desperate search for immortality potions by some Daoist adepts.

Zhu Wei pushes the concept of trance-like following to the point of fanaticism in some other works. In Sunflowers, No.30 (2000)(fig. 9), the viewer re-encounters the two men from the painting discussed above who are joined by an almost identical third figure. The window, though which the scene is observed, probably refers to Zhu Wei’s studio--the turquoise star depicted on the left wall is identical to his own bronze sculpture China Diary Star (1999). The viewer thus shares the artist’s perspective both visually and psychologically. As the title implies, the figures pass by in a seemly hypnotic state, transfixed by the object of their avidity. In Utopia, No.32 (2002)(fig. 10) the artist portrays two bald-headed men that seem to absurdly cheer on an event beyond the picture plane. Like the figures in the painting above, their state is one of puppets in a carefully orchestrated spectacle. Hence. Both works exude a chilling atmosphere of absurdity and docility.

Interestingly, it seems that in Zhu Wei’s world, the people’s attitude changes little when the bubble of economic prosperity bursts. His Festival (1998) series focuses on the mass lay-offs of employees from China’s state-owned enterprises starting in 1998.(24) It is the pallid faces of these people that the viewer sees in Festival, No.21 (1998)(fig. 11). Although in dire straits, the eyes of the two men effuse the same hypnotic quality as the figures in the works discussed above. The arid landscape and the industrial area in the background, as well as the men’s apparent passiveness, strongly evoke the desolate state with which they are faced. Watching the government sponsored firework display in celebration of the Chinese New Year,(25) their expression do not reflect the joyousness typically associated with the most important festival of the Chinese lunar calendar. But they also show no sign of rebellion. Deprived of any social insurance system and forced into poverty, they still stand there as onlookers--inert and anesthetized.

What makes them such docile creatures, Zhu Wei seems to imply, is the government’s aforementioned propaganda machinery. Despite the superficially increasing freedoms, this behemoth from the Mao era still works today as an alarmingly effective mind-control apparatus. It entertains the masses and promises everyone a better future. The privations of today, it pledges, will be the prosperity of tomorrow. By adding a dash of national pride(26) to the mélange--as Zhu Wei also seems to suggest in his Utopia (2002) series--it has found a new and highly effective opiate for its people.

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As can be seen from these works, Zhu Wei’s art is inextricably bound to China’s present condition--from historical catharsis to social transmutation. The disjunctures that mark contemporary Chinese life are evidenced by the effortless coexistence of different times and events within the same painting. Zhu Wei’s keen observations allow him to successfully indict, unmask, and thus rebel against this status quo.

Yet, Zhu Wei has a deep-seated love and reverence for his country and culture. The lyrics for "This Space"(27) by the famous Chinese rock-star Cui Jian,(28) which Zhu Wei inscribed on Sweet Life, No.38 (1999)(fig. 12), reflects the artist’s torn, yet emotional relationship with contemporary China. They read:

I can’t open the sky and I can’t penetrate the earth.

Anyhow, freedom is not a temporary prison.

You can’t leave me and I can’t leave you.

No one knows if in fact it’s love or dependence.


Money is just money and profit is just profit.

But you and I are not slaves.

You can only serve me and I can only serve you.

Just like pairs of small shrimps.


There is nothing fresh and new in this space

Just like there is no secret in our love.

I looked at you before but could not see into the depths.

Who would have known that only after

many encounters [I] understand that it’s a borderless void.

Just like in this space.


All that I’ve thought I’ve not said and all that

I’ve said I’ve not done.

What makes me happy is playing the guitar and

singing a song for you.

Don’t intermittently cry and laugh.

You’ve already know what kind of a thing I am

for a long time.


Heaven is a pot and the surrounding is a desert.

You are a dried-up well but the deeper the more beautiful.

The fire in this breast, the sweat on this body

That is the real sun, the real spring.


There is nothing fresh and new in this space

Just like there is no secret in our love.

I looked at you before but could not see into the depths.

Who knows that one can only understand after

looking in and out that it’s a borderless void.

Just like in this space. (29)

Set against the three factions that most strongly shape China’s reality: government, army, and the business world--personified by the gluttonous,(30) businessmen in the background--Cui Jian’s lyrics reflects Zhu Wei’s independent spirit and underlines the contradictory structures that mark contemporary Chinese society. Whilst tracing society’s ugly face, Zhu Wei is able to pierce through its multi-faceted layering and see the beauty that lies beneath. It’s the source from which he derives his inspiration and it’s the soil that nurtures his dissent. In the same vein, he takes on the traditional Chinese painting medium only to transform it so that it may express his acute contemporary vision.




(1)     Hong Ying, Summer of Betrayal (New York: Grove Press, 1997), 132.

(2)     Interview with Carma Hinton, 1997. See digital disk Zhu Wei Diary (Hong Kong: Plum Blossoms (International) Ltd., 2000).

(3)     Sherman Chau, "Reality Checked," in iConnect (November 3, 2000).

(4)     The cover of the book is in fact a portrait of Deng Xiaoping by Zhu Wei entitled China China (1997).

(5)     Geremie Barmé, In the Red (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 333.

(6)     Ibid., 326-327.

(7)     Examples are Wang Qingsong’s Night Revels of Lao Li (2000) and Hong Lei’s Imitating Zhao Mengfu’s Autumn Colors on the Que and Hua Mountains (2003).

(8)     The preparations for the repatriation of the then British colony, which included the creation of a PLA unit that was dispatched for special training in a Guangdong garrison in 1995, was a central political topic after the turbulent waves created by the Tiananmen incident turned into occasional ripples. At exactly midnight on the eve of the handover of Hong Kong, these PLA soldiers crossed the border in the New Territories in a symbolic act of military conquest.

(9)     Xin Yang et al., Three Thousand Years of Chinese Painting (New Heaven: Yale University and Foreign Language Press, 1997), 78.

(10) Fangzhou Jia, "Zhu Wei and His Determination," in Zhu Wei Diary (Hong Kong: Plum Blossoms (International) Ltd., 2000), 281.

(11) Translation by the author.

(12) This aspiration was most famously encapsulated in Mao Zedong’s ringing 1957 proclamation that China will be equal surpass Britain in industrial productivity within fifteen years. See Immanuel Hsü, The Rise of Modern China (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 655.

(13) Records of the Strange, Second Volume is a Ming dynasty collection of short stories. Zhu Wei presents this series as a new edition of that book. Compilations of stories describing strange events have a long history in China. Liaozhai’s Records of the Strange by Pu Songling (1640-1715 AD) is one such example. In the same vein as Pu, Zhu Wei here presents himself to us as a historian of the strange. See Judith Zeitlin, Historian of the Strange (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993).

(14) Xin Yang et al., Three Thousand Years of Chinese Painting (New Heaven: Yale University and Foreign Language Press, 1997), 61.

(15) Ibid. See endnote 13.

(16) This word refers to the name of a dancehall in Shanghai that opened in 1932.

(17) This usually refers to pre-liberation Shanghai.

(18) Translation by the author.

(19) Geremie Barmé, In the Red (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 344.

(20) Similar concerns can also be seen in a number of works by China’s youngest generation of contemporary artists.

(21) The Raffles Hotel in Singapore is famed for its "Long Bar." A connection can also be drawn to Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (1781-1826), who was an agent and colonial administrator of the British East India Company. In 1824 he purchased Singapore Island for the British Empire.

(22) Translation by the author.

(23) A bottle gourd is a medicine repository for traveling monks. Their medicine is said to alleviate any illness and sometimes even impart immortality.

(24) Within four years, a total of more than twenty-six million Chinese lost their jobs--out of which ten million remained unemployment by 2002. Already poor areas, such as China’s northeastern "rustbelt," were hit particularly hard. See People’s Daily website: http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/200210/27/eng20021027_105729.shtml.

(25) Not shown in this work but in others that are part of this series.

(26) Most directly apparent since the victorious bid for the 2008 Olympics in 2001.

(27) From Cui Jian’s 1991 album Resolve.

(28) Cui Jian is one of Zhu Wei’s closest friends. In the early 1990s he created the stage backdrop that Cui Jian still uses for his performances.

(29) Translation by the author.

(30) Holding one’s chopsticks close to the tip is a sign of greed.

Illusion of pictures 图片说明:

Figure 1. Zhu Wei, Comrades, 1995, ink and colour on paper. Courtesy by Plum Blossoms (International) Ltd., Hong Kong 朱伟,《同志们》,1995,水墨设色纸本。


Figure 2. Zhu Wei, Pictures of the Strikingly Bizarre: Serving the People, 1994, ink and colour on paper. Courtesy of Plum Blossoms (International) Ltd., Hong Kong 朱伟,《二刻拍案惊奇:为人民服务》,1994,水墨设色纸本。

Figure 3. Zhang Xuan, Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk, eighth century, ink and colour on silk. Courtesy of Plum Blossoms (International) Ltd., Hong Kong 张萱,《捣练图》,公元八世纪,水墨设色绢本。

Zhang Xuan

Figure 4. Attributed to Yan Liben, The Imperial Sedan Chair, date unknown, ink and colour on silk. Courtesy of Plum Blossoms (International) Ltd., Hong Kong 阎立本,《步辇图》,未知年代,水墨设色绢本。

Yan Liben

Figure 5. Zhu Wei, China Diary, No.7, 1995, ink and colour on paper. Courtesy of Plum Blossoms (International) Ltd., Hong Kong 朱伟,《中国日记七号》,1995,水墨设色纸本。

China Diary No.7

Figure 6. Zhu Wei, China Diary, No.4, 1995, ink and colour on paper. Courtesy of Plum Blossoms (International) Ltd., Hong Kong 朱伟,《中国日记四号》,1995,水墨设色纸本。

China Diary No.4

Figure 7. Zhu Wei, Box, No.3, 1995, ink and colour on paper. Courtesy of Plum Blossoms (International) Ltd., Hong Kong 朱伟,《盒子三号》,1995,水墨设色纸本。

Box No.3

Figure 8. Zhu Wei, Supreme Treatise on Moral Retribution, No. 18, 2000, ink and colour on paper. Courtesy of Plum Blossoms (International) Ltd., Hong Kong 朱伟,《太上感应十八号》,2000,水墨设色纸本。


Figure 9. Zhu Wei, Sunflowers, No.30, 2000, ink and colour on paper. Courtesy of Plum Blossoms (International) Ltd., Hong Kong 朱伟,《向日葵三十号》,2000,水墨设色纸本。

Sunflower No.30

Figure 10. Zhu Wei, Utopia, No.32, 2002, ink and colour on paper. Courtesy of Plum Blossoms (International) Ltd., Hong Kong 朱伟,《乌托邦三十二号》,2002,水墨设色纸本。

Utopia No.32

Figure 11. Zhu Wei, Festival, No.21, 1998, ink and colour on paper. Courtesy of Plum Blossoms (International) Ltd., Hong Kong 朱伟,《节日二十一号》,1998,水墨设色纸本。

Festival No.21

Figure 12. Zhu Wei, Sweet Life, No.38, 1999, ink and colour on paper. Courtesy of Plum Blossoms (International) Ltd., Hong Kong 朱伟,《甜蜜的生活三十八号》,1999,水墨设色纸本。

Sweet Life No.38

First published inYISHU: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art, September 2004 | Fall Issue



Xenia Pi?ch, born in Switzerlan, independent art critic.








异见的异解 ——朱伟的绘画










然而,朱伟无意于漠然面对他们这一代所遭受的各种创伤。除了他青春时代的混乱环境与别人相同,他自身却生长出一种与众不同的——有时甚至是撕裂般的——内省。把自己当作一个时代的编年史,朱伟强调说:“在我的艺术里面没有直接的政治意图。”[2] 然而纵观他的所有作品,就会发现朱伟的艺术并不仅仅是提供愉悦,也不是无所批判的。







1980年到1990年期间中国大陆当代艺术作品的一个显著特征是它们的宣传性气氛。这也意味着他们共同根植于更早时代的宣传艺术的视觉语汇。正如Geremie Barme在他的关于中国当代艺术的书《在红色中》[4] 所说的一样,中国大陆持不同政见的一群人“用与他们的敌人一样的语言来进行谴责与攻击”。[5]

在受教育期间,朱伟曾被训练成一个宣传者,他熟悉宣传画的修辞形式,换种说法,即Mikhail Epstein口中的“意识形态”[6]。艺术家的视觉语汇遵循同一道路,尽管他的当代性赋予了他不同的创作意图,因而也更深奥。举例来说,跟王广义的大批判系列相比,朱伟的作品无论在视觉上还是在思想上都更为精炼。当艺术家把简洁的幽默混合压缩起来的时候,观者就看到了朱伟经历过的惊奇景象。

当权阶层创造出来的意识形态覆盖了方方面面,视觉上、文字上、社会中和政治上,包括那些深深印在中国公共记忆中的传统符号。这些中国艺术史里的经典形象及其后对之的颠覆,恰好适合所谓的中国当代艺术世界来表达他们的异见。[7] 朱伟运用了这个策略——从用于证明作品的著作权和所有权的印章模仿传统形式开始——到他所遭遇的日常生活的现实。《同志们》(1995)和《二刻拍案惊奇之酒后驾车》(1994)都是此类明显的例子。









用Channel V的标志和放置在桌子上的电视机——旁边有一瓶洗发香波——通常传统上会放一个教学用具,在此朱伟也表明也毛泽东崇拜的巨大商业价值。这种画面上时间感的错位像是代表了毛泽东崇拜给中华人民共和国历史上带来的最黑暗的一章和严重的断层。




毛泽东时代和当代中国之间的辩证关系造就了很多朱伟的作品。题款和图画的交错也正是根植于宣传画艺术的说教功能。但是,朱伟破坏了官方的演说辞,让它苍白和荒谬。这些作品因此而流露出“反讽性的怀念”,正如Geremie Barme在他的《怀念极权主义》中所说,刷新过去,从而创造新历史。[19]



在《盒子三号》(1995)中,朱伟描绘了中国的西化改革。他画了一个身着中国传统服装的学者坐在一个酒吧里喝贝克啤酒。画中人向上看着一顶阳伞,阳伞上写着“Raffles Hotel”[21]。西方化和其殖民地的阴影逼近了,他被一个女人挑剔的眼光盯着,像是在宣布:










打不开天 也穿不过地
你离不开我 我也离不开你

钱就是钱 利就是利
你只能为了我 我也只能为了你

这儿的空间 没什么新鲜
我看着你 曾经看不到底

想的都没说 说的也都没做
你别一会儿哭 你也别一会儿笑

天是个锅 周围是沙漠
你是口枯井 可越深越美
这胸中的火 这身上的汗
才是真的太阳 真的泉水

这儿的空间 没什么新鲜
我看着你 曾经看不到底




[1] 虹影《背叛之夏》(纽约: 小树林出版社Grove Press, 1997),132。
[2] 与Carma Hinton的对话, 1997。参见多媒体CD《朱伟日记》(香港万玉堂国际有限公司出品,2000)。
[3] 出自发表于iConnect (2000年11月3日刊) 的Sherman Chau的文章“审视现实”。
[4] 这本书的封面为朱伟所作的邓小平肖像,作品名为《中国 中国》(1997)。
[5] Geremie Barmé的《在红色中》(纽约哥伦比亚大学出版社, 1999), 333。
[6] 同上, 326-327.
[7] 例子为王庆松的《老栗夜宴图》(2000) 和洪磊的《仿赵孟?鹊华秋色图》(2003)。
[9] 出自杨新等著的《中国绘画三千年》。(纽黑文:耶鲁大学外文出版社, 1997), 78。
[10] 出自贾方舟在《朱伟日记》里的文章“朱伟和他的决心” (香港万玉堂国际有限公司出品,2000), 281。
[11] 作者译。
[12] 这种想法最著名的体现是,1957年毛泽东宣布,中国要在15年内超过英国的工业生产能力。参考徐中约的作品《现代中国的崛起》(纽约牛津大学出版社1990年出版),655。
[13] 《二刻拍案惊奇》原为明朝的一部短篇小说集,朱伟这一作品系列采纳了它的名称。怪力乱神的故事在中国有悠久历史,蒲松龄(1640~1715)的《聊斋志异》即为其中一例。与蒲松龄一脉相承,朱伟也像一个研究怪力乱神的历史学家。参考Judith Zeitlin作品《怪力乱神史》(斯坦福大学出版社1993年出版)。
[14] 参考杨新(音译)作品《三千年中国绘画史》(耶鲁大学外语出版社1997年出版),61。
[15] 参见注释13。
[16] 该名称为上海在1932年开张的舞厅名。
[17] 通常指解放前的上海。
[18] 作者译。
[19] Geremie Barmé的《在红色中》(纽约哥伦比亚大学出版社, 1999), 344。
[20] 在中国当代年轻艺术家的作品中可以看到类似的关注。
[21] 新加坡的Raffles Hotel(莱佛士酒店)由于它的“长酒吧”而闻名。另一个联想是Thomas Stamford Raffles (1781-1826 AD)爵士,他是英国东印度公司的代理人,也是殖民地的行政长官。1824年他为大英帝国买下新加坡岛。
[22] 作者译。
[23] 葫芦是给云游的僧侣准备的装药的容器。他们的药据说包治百病,甚至长生不老。
[24] 在过去四年中,有超过两千六百万中国人失业——他们之中有一千万人在2002年仍没有找到工作。在已经很贫困的地区,比如中国西北的工业衰退地区,遭受的损失尤其严重。参见“中国日报”网站http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/200210/27/eng20021027_105729.shtml.
[25] 出现在本系列其它作品中。
[26] 在2001年中国申请奥运会举办城市成功后尤为明显。
[27] 崔健是朱伟最亲近的朋友之一。在90年代早期,他为崔健制作的舞台背景图现在仍在使用中。
[28] 出自崔健1991年的专辑“解决”。
[29] 作者译。
[30] 手握筷子接近顶端是贪婪的象征。