Wang Luyan is one of China's foremost living conceptual artists. Known for his clear-cut, mechanical designs and works critical of China's rapid modernisation, Wang frequently engages with the concepts of paradox and self-destruction.
Having grown up during the Cultural Revolution and entered adulthood at its finish, Wang has been involved in contemporary Chinese art since the late 1970s. He was a member of the Stars Painting Society—a group of experimental artists who, after being denied exhibition space in the National Art Museum of China, famously hung their paintings outside the museum building in 1979. Calling for artistic freedom, these avantgarde artists openly criticised the state promotion of Socialist Realist art. Wang also participated in the '85 New Wave movement, which reacted against Socialist Realism, and was associated with The New Analyst Group, which later developed into the New Measurement Group, founded by Wang and his colleagues Gu Dexin and Chen Shaoping. They exhibited together between 1988 and 1995, during which time Wang's abstract paintings shifted towards conceptualism. In 1989, Wang was part of the China/Avant-garde Exhibition at the National Art Museum. The exhibition marked the first time avantgarde art officially entered a museum in China.
In his iconic depictions of mechanical objects, Wang transforms them in a way that paradoxically leads to their failure to perform their designated tasks, if not self-destruction. For example, the bicycle in the 1995 assemblage Bicycle & drawing cannot move forward, while the handgun in W Fire at Both Ends Automatic Handgun D 13-02 (2013) fires in directions of both the user and the target. This fascination with paradox perhaps stems from Wang's training as a mechanical engineer. He is particularly interested in actions that cause two contradictory reactions. For instance, an act of opening can simultaneously be conceived as an act of closing—by extension, one action invariably implicates another. The painting W Global Watch D11-01 (2011) depicts a wristwatch with cogs that bear the flags of various nations; when one wheel moves, it triggers the movement of others—a visual metaphor for the interconnected nature of international politics.
With China's rapid industrialisation in the 1990s, Wang almost completely withdrew from its art world for a decade. He was dissatisfied with the country's relentless drive for economic development and the influx of Western influences that to him seemed to promote a homogeneous art practice with an insistence on China's revolutionary past. Later, the artist recalled that it felt 'meaningless to show works without the right context'.
Wang began exhibiting widely again in 2007 and has continued to produce mechanical designs and works critical of China's modernisation and its subsequent material culture. In paintings such as Revolving Madonna Litta D10-06 and Revolving Genesis D10-03 (both 2010), exhibited in Diagramming Allegory (2013) at Parkview Green, Beijing, Wang reconfigures the original subjects in Renaissance masterpieces as figures made up of machine-like parts. Subverting the divine into the mechanical, he questions the supposed progressiveness of the industry- and machine-driven modern age.
Throughout his career, Wang has exhibited internationally at Galleria Alessandro Bagnai, Arezzo (2015); Parkview Green, Beijing (2013); Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing (2008, 2007); China Art Museum, Shanghai (2006); MoMA PS1, New York (1998); and Modern Art Oxford (1993) among others. In 2013 the Hong Kong Arts Centre presented Doublethink: Kata Legrady and Wang Luyan, a joint exhibition of the two artists whose works challenge established ideas and systems. Wang has also participated in a number of international events including the Busan Biennale (2010, 2008); Shanghai Biennale (2006); the Guangzhou Triennial (2002); and the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (1996).