"Subversive" Chinese painting anchors HK art auction

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HONG KONG, Oct 8 (Reuters) A subversive painting by Chinese artist Yue Minjun fetched 4 million US dollars at a Sotheby's auction in Hong Kong, anchoring a sale reflecting robust continued demand for Chinese contemporary art.

Other notable results included a world record price for a massive ''gunpowder'' painting by Chinese artist Cai Guoqiang.

Yue's 1994 painting, ''The Massacre at Chios'', based on the eponymous 1824 masterpiece by French painter Eugene Delacroix is a large scale work featuring 11 of the painter's famous laughing figures with hot-pink skin, and surrounded by auspicious Chinese Red Crowned cranes.

Delacroix's original work depicts the horrors of the massacre of Greeks by the Turks on the island of Chios in 1821.

In yesterday auchtion the price of HK.7 million, fell just short of the Chinese artist's record of 4.3 US million dollars fetched earlier this year for Yue's 1997 oil on canvas entitled ''The Pope''.

Considered a typically subversive take on Communist propaganda artwork by Yue and a poignant critique of the Tiananmen Square massacre, ''The massacre at Chios'' had never been offered at auction before.

In the Sotheby's catalogue, the painter is quoted as saying the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989 in which hundreds, perhaps thousands of peaceful, student-led democracy demonstrators were killed by Chinese troops had made Yue ''lose my idealism'' and become ''dissatisfied with society''.

''The subversive message is undeniably pointing at the Tiananmen Square incident,'' said Jonathan Crockett, a Sotheby's specialist of Yue's work.

Known as a cynical realist, Yue's body of work, dominated by his absurd ''shark's laugh'' figures, attempts to subversively mock Chinese society, experts say.

Another highlight at the Contemporary art sale was Cai Guoqiang's ''Project for Extraterrestrials No. 10, Project to extend the Great Wall of China'' a massive work measuring 3 by 20 metres which fetched HK.48 million 2.6 million US dollars, nearly doubling the previous world record price for the artist.

The momentous ''gunpowder'' painting scarred with burn marks, is a bold attempt to record a celebrated art project carried out by Cai at the end of the Great Wall of China in 1993, in which he ignited a trail of gunpowder to ''wake'' the great wall with a wall of fire, and make it visible to extraterrestrials.

REUTERS ARB RN0920

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