Power Lust Death
Dec 13, 2015 - Mar 08, 2016

Press Release

Power, Lust and Death



After ongoing exploration in painting for a couple of years, in 2006, I began to devote myself to the tentative idea of abstract painting and installation art.

The exhibition at White Box Art Center demonstrates for the first time my abstract paintings and installation works. This time, I choose the works themed with power, lust and death. I like to keep things simple and straightforward. But you would naturally have your own judgement on how circuitous the thinking is and how deep the connotation is.

When choosing the materials for these works, I favored gold. In my opinion, the artist's understanding of the characteristics of materials mirrors his aesthetic concept of the works. The materials, as flesh is to the blood, are the carrier of the soul of art. Although bronze is commonly used in sculpture and installations while gold for its high cost has not been widely used by artists in the creation, the material of gold could embody to the most my awareness of the theme of the exhibition, power, lust and death. Gold symbolizes eternity, power, wealth, and so on. It troubles the human and has always fettered the fate of the human for thousands of years. There are numerous stories since ancient times about gold, most of which talks about the passion and adventure, often extremely magical and fascinating, but the heavy fact is that people’s greed of gold had been leading to continuous war and death.

In addition to gold, other important materials for these works are ceramic, white marble and bronze. They are similar to gold; all are or have been a symbol of rank, power and wealth. I use these materials to express my way of understanding of the life, the society and the world. They reflect my ambivalent attitude to the social reality of the moment: on the one hand I am extremely idealistic, full of fantasy and hope toward life, while on the other hand in the face of the real world, I have to tell myself to accept all the facts different from my envision and in this way I can make continued progress. Among the exhibits, the fragile ceramic and white marble make contrast and contradict to the solid bronze and gold, which is the very concern of me. I think it is from this contrast and contradiction that we learn to introspect and that reform has being born in the history of mankind time after time.


He Wenjue

Oct. 2015

Curator Article

nterview with He Wenjue – The Chinese wisdom of polishing a sword over a decade


Cao Maochao


Time: November 22, 2015

Location: Art Café, White Box Art Museum


Cao Maochao (Abbreviated as Cao below): Mr. He, compare to the previous ones, this exhibition is making a breakthrough, it has even overthrown our general impression of your practice, from artistic medium adopted and the subject matter chosen, you have shown various different aspects in this exhibition. For instance, they are different from the abstract painting and installation shown in your first exhibition, under what kind of condition has such creative ideas risen?


He Wenjue (Abbreviated as He below): The works in this exhibition have indeed shown drastic variations from my previous works. At the same time, they are not necessarily complete and abrupt transformations. They are accumulated experience from within over many years. In fact, I have been thinking about installation and making proposals since 2006, and until now, I have more than 100 proposals. I am an extremely precise person, and am very mindful of the quality of my artworks. Previously, I have been focusing on making works on canvas, which didn’t allow me to execute any of my installation plans. In the recent few years, I have discovered a number of interesting events through various media channels and on-site visits, other artists have made many of the proposals I had. I felt the time is right, I should present the other aspect of my artistic practice.


In fact, I have been studying and researching on abstract art over the years, some of my abstract works have not been exhibited. While we were preparing for this exhibition, suddenly there was a “wave of abstraction”, and I did feel like the need to follow this trend.  I had initially wanted to add two abstract works, instead, I thought, I’d rather make the exhibition more pure and powerful.


Cao: Besides the changes in the medium and subject matter, the creative context and implications of the artworks are also changing, in your previous series, the Water series is related to your childhood experience, the water pond in your hometown carried many of your childhood memories, Movie Watching is inspired by your mother’s job at the film company, an environment you have been immersed in since a child, therefore you have an affinity to film. You’ve painted film posters more than twenty years ago; in 2013, in your 2013 solo exhibition curated by Yin Jun, Everyday Moving Images, you have extended your artistic perspective into our present time, translating the everyday spectacle and life scenarios into one’s own discourse, this is a clear train of thought.


And while the works in this exhibition span in a wide range of clues, they are also showing in-depth explorations. Many works follow a historical chronology, which can be somewhat serious in comparison to previous ones. Painting politics from the barrel of a gun, Fair judgment (fair auction) seems to reveal certain resentful attitude in their inspirations. Why did you shift your perspective to this relatively serious subject?


He: My works in fact draw from the oriental wisdom in China. I have always been immersed in traditional Chinese culture, in which many abstruse points of view and ways of thinking have provided me abundant sources of inspiration. I can use some of my artworks as examples, in this exhibition, the work Touch a stone and turn it into gold, comes from an ancient Chinese adage of the county official Xu Xun used spells to turn stones into rocks in order to help the farmers to make up for government tax in the Jin Dynasty. While “Touching a stone and turn it into gold” in modern times has transformed and hybridized semantics, that often is used to emphasize the ability to assign power, that almost has the meaning of “pointing the deer as a horse” or “Three people report the tiger”. Such power allows those in the office to turn the degenerate into mystery, or even manipulating regulations personally. Therefore, this work reveals certain negative inclinations in the present society on a certain level, while it expresses my own vigilant attitude towards the time we live in.


The resentful attitude you have mentioned is perhaps related to two of my works that refer to a “dialectical” concept. For instance, Fair Judgment(Fair Auction), in fact the subject of the “final judgment” is a subject that has been explored by many western masters since the post-renaissance period in the west, like the “Last Supper”, it is a classic subject that has appeared repeatedly in Western paintings, “judgment” refers to certain rules and power, so I made two auction gavels, one in gold, the other in white marble, the gavels symbolize fairness and integrity, that needs to maintain the standard of the judgment, a unwavering standard of judgment, that the power in the system of judgment is built around it, thus it is made in gold. However, the world is a conflicting system, are the standardized system we look up and follow a series of utopian imagination? Is there a fragile dark side behind it, it may seem pure and genuine, in fact the fragile white marble is precisely a good metaphor.


Cao: Let’s talk about the theme of this exhibition, “Power, Lust, Death”, these three terms in my opinion point at the most primitive instincts. Using primitive society as an example, the head of a tribe has the priority to choose a partner, and his death would also be highly respected, the scenario is still valid today. This subject is straightforward, revealing certain confusion in today’s society, a subject that nakedly draws consensus. What is your opinion on this theme?


He: I think most people are trapped by power, lust and death from the beginning to the end. Your analogy is quite appropriate. People’s aspirations are still quite primitive in the present society; they are trapped by materials. I think it is the most appropriate element that binds all three subjects, thus, I am using a large quantity of gold. From ancient times to the present, gold has always been the most last currency of exchange, it’s a symbol of materials, its relationships with power, erotic desires and death are apparent. When people are trapped materialistically, they wouldn’t have higher aspirations, or any ultimate ideals.


Cao: Moreover, these three terms are traceable in chronology of your previous works, for instance, there are a number of images representing erotic desires in Movie Watching, as well as in Youth, Love and Hate, in 2011 Dinner Party, through the mouth of the wealthy in this society, to contemplate the current state and development prospects, which provoked your thinking on death.


He: Yes, even though it is a grand subject, but it’s embedded in ubiquitous creative practices. In particular, power can be divided into public power, private power, shared power, the way in which the wealthy uses and distinguishes these “powers” is in fact a warning for me, their thoughts on death is equally pertinent to everyone else.


Cao: You’ve mentioned that many people don’t have ultimate ideals, then, what is yours? How do you see death?


He: I am have ultimate ideals, and my goal is my artworks will be collected by art museums, that will leave an impact to billions of people in the history of art, and one can imagine the difficulty. But most people are thinking of living and dying, eating and drinking, reproducing offspring. With this ultimate ideal, I would spend my effort in my lifetime to achieve it, and I wouldn’t want to leave this beautiful world. The world is wonderful, doesn't mean that there are only wonderful things in this world. It has flaws, yet the imperfections make it wonderful. I am interested in the subject of death, because it symbolizes eternity. An important work in this exhibition, Eternity consists of 36 skulls collected from all five continents spanning over three billion years, and one of a modern person. The evolutionary chronology is marked with these 37 skulls, among them, including the “Peking man”, “Yuan Someone”, it took almost 10 years since I began this project in 2006, and I’ve been collecting and organizing. 


Cao: We mentioned Dinner Party, in fact I think it’s closely related to this exhibition, other than its thoughts on power and death, the composition in Dinner Party appropriates the classic piece of The Last Supper, likewise, a highly exposed icon in the art world, the skull, is equally a critical element in this exhibition.  Dali used the female body to collage into a skull, Damien Hirst inlaid a skull with diamonds, Alexander McQueen and Michael Jackson have invariably adopted this icon, how have you decided to break away from your usual thoughts to adopt such a highly cliché icon?


He: I think the use of classical icons is determined by specific necessity of my art practice, I don’t mind at all that other artists have used this element. After all, in the practice of contemporary art, the so-called conceptual thinking, pushing boundaries in the artistic medium are analogies to the spirit of contemporary art, my work is different from theirs entirely, as my thinking is independent.


Cao: What is your view on the appropriation of the ready-made in contemporary art? You have pour in a lot of funding into this project, using gold, bronze, white marble, ceramic and other precious materials.


He: In my art practice, I respect “minimalism” and I appreciate contemporary artists’ recycling and reuse of ready-mades. For myself, I am less inclined to use metal wires, straws and various inexpensive objects in making my works. I am serious and meticulous about my artwork, especially in choosing materials. To a certain degree, gold transgresses the subjects on “power, erotic desires and death”, of course, the white marble in my artworks are of grade A quality, I wouldn’t choose pieces with flaws, it represents purity and fragility. The subject of my work determines the choice in the materials for my work.


Cao: With our previous conversation, the works shown in this exhibition in terms of form and content have subversive quality, what are your expectations?


He: I have invested all of my financial resources, materials and energy into this exhibition, it's the essence of my efforts over the years, and an important presentation of my artistic thinking, of course, Director Sun Yongzeng has given me tremendous amount of support, I believe it is an exhibition worth looking forward to.



Installation View


Media Report