All of us at SHOWstudio Shop were over awed when we were offered the opportunity to exhibit one of the Gao Brothers' most seminal works The Execution of Christ at our Bruton Place gallery in Mayfair. A monumental, bronze sculpture, the piece epitomises the term 'political pop' depicting a firing squad of seven Chairman Maos pointing their rifles directly at a figure of Jesus.
The Gao Brothers have consistently produced highly politicised work, which tackle subjects of oppression, violence, hypocrisy and authoritarianism, most commonly through these grandiose visual narratives. However, this has not been an easy trajectory to follow, particularly under the strictures and censorship imposed by the Chinese authorities throughout their career.
Art has a long engagement with politics and this piece makes clear reference to some of its most important predecessors. The composition is derived from Manet's The Execution of Emperor Maximilian (1867-1869) which was produced as a direct reaction to the Napoleonic wars and provoked a harsh political backlash. We might also think of Goya's The Third of May (1808) and later Picasso's Massacre in Korea (1951) which were also hugely controversial for depicting the firing squad as a political tool. The Gaos deliberately draw on this motif and have transposed it to meet their own ends.
In one respect, the piece embodies a situation particular to China. Communist authoritarianism and mass identification, depicted through the many faces of Mao and his intense control over the composition, is intermingled with an infiltration of Western aesthetics and rapid commercialisation primarily in the use of a recognisably Western trope in the firing squad as well as the inclusion of the central figure of Christianity and finally the monumentalising effect of using bronze on this scale.
It is this political backdrop and the control it exerts over artistic production that we want to probe in our live discussion here at SHOWstudio today. We have invited some of the most influential artists and writers on the subject to join us in the gallery and will stream their conversation on the topic live online.
The Gao Brothers have suffered at the hands of the Chinese authorities- not only through the censorship of their work, limits on their practice and the closing of their exhibitions, but also on a personal level when their father was taken away and never returned, the Gaos believe he was executed. It is difficult to imagine working in such an environment, and though the speakers that join us today have now relocated to live in London, they do have an insight into the situation at present in China which seems so distant to us here. In streaming their conversation live from the gallery today at 1400BST, we hope to unpick the meanings embedded in The Execution of Christ, and also to examine the wider context from which it has come. The speakers include contemporary artists Le Guo, Sheng Qi and Haili Sun and academic Voon Pow Bartlett. Tune in to see this dynamic conversation unfold live on SHOWstudio today at 1400BST.