Zeng Fanzhi’s painting “MASK SERIES 99-A-2” was sold for $993,000 hammer price on Nov 14, 2007 in Sotheby’s New York auction.
From the auction catalog’s note:
“Zeng Fanzhi is recognized as one of the foremost Contemporary Chinese painters of the post-1989 generation. In 1994, Zeng began his Mask series, in which people’s faces are hidden behind the open gaze and wide grins of a mask. The main purpose of the façade is to conceal feeling, and it is hard not to read the artificiality of the covered faces as an allegory of cynical politeness in a society experiencing constant transformation. Mask Series 99 A-2 from 1999 is a classic example of Zeng’s genuine ability to render allegorical imagery, whose content most often is intuited from symbolic forms. In this particular painting we see two men, dressed in identical suits, each raising a glass of red wine toward the viewer. The masks they wear are identical, so there is a loss of individuality; the only distinct difference between them concerns their clothing, since the figure on the left wears a formal shirt and tie, while the figure on the right is dressed in a blue crew shirt.
The two men are giving a toast against a soft pink and red background that offers no clue of the locale they inhabit. As a result they appear to be toasting the artist’s audience, who are made to feel as if they are participating in a public function. In Contemporary art, alienation and identity remain contested issues, but here we have a socially oriented, more or less identical pair. The supposed vitality of their pose and fleshy oversized hands, made neutral by the presence of the masks, speaks volumes regarding the roles the Chinese are made to play in contemporary society. As a result, we hardly trust them as active agents following their own desires; instead, we read the two men as succumbing to a position that only adds to social confusion. In this painting of figures whose facile enjoyment is literally masked, it seems most likely that they are hiding their darker view of the world.
More information about Zeng at the Saatchi Gallery