In conjunction with our summer exhibition, Death, Shop director Carrie Scott sat down with contemporary artists Le Guo, Sheng Qi and Haili Sun, and academic Voon Pow Bartlett to discuss the varied interpretations and implications of the Gao Brothers’ sculpture, The Execution of Christ (2009). A transcript of the discussion, entitled Today/Tomorrow: Chinese Art, was published in Yishu Journal of Contemporary Art alongside beautiful installation shots and images of some related works.
The title of the project illustrates not only the wide range of topics covered in the hour-long conversation, but also the broad reach of the Gao Brothers’ work. Streamed live from our site, the conversation explored the sculpture’s relationship to the art historical canon in works such as Edouard Manet’s The Execution of the Emperor Maximilian (1868-9) and Francisco Goya’s The Third of May 1808 (1814), as well as religion, Mao’s reign and censorship in China, and the role of audience participation in sculpture. The Gao Brothers’ bronze sculpture depicts seven Mao’s with rifles aiming at Jesus, who stands, arms outstretch at his sides with stigma visible on his hands. What is most striking and unique about the piece is the larger-than-life scale of these figures. The scale and sculptural presentation of this scene were of great interest during the conversation. Unlike the Manet and Goya paintings, as a sculpture, the audience is able to walk around the figures, viewing both the victim and the gunmen’s expressions. Their size makes the figures aggressive and even accusatory.
Undoubtedly the work is politically charged and controversial, making it particularly interesting in terms of China’s cultural and political climate. As our panel members noted, being an artist in China is always risky and often dangerous. As artist Sheng Qi explains, portraying Mao’s face alone is not allowed, regardless of his stance. Considering the risks the Gao Brothers took in creating this work, let alone having it transported to the UK, adds a layer of urgency and violence to the piece. What is at stake is not just the life of Jesus, as illustrated, but in a sense the life of the artist who dares to oppose the regime.
Today/Tomorrow: Chinese Art is available to view on our website as well as a guided tour of the exhibition, Death.
Reported by Megan N Liberty