Beautiful, Soul-Affirming Untruths
Gao Zen is a 53-year-old Chinese artist who, together with his brother Qiang, keeps a headless sculpture in his studio, hiding the work’s crucial missing piece until clandestine, invitation-only exhibits can be arranged.
That’s because when the sculpture’s head is fastened on, viewers see before them a contrite, bowing figure of Mao Zedong, seeking the viewer’s forgiveness for atrocities committed against millions during the Cultural Revolution.
Headless, the sculpture remains innocuous and safe from official sanction. Assembled, it breaks the taboo of criticizing China’s leaders.
“We wanted to portray him as a human being, a regular person confessing for the wrongs he’s committed,” said Zhen, quoted in a recent article in the International Herald Tribune.
The Gao Brothers focus on what Oscar Wilde called “the proper aim of art” — “the telling of beautiful, untrue things.”
The Gao’s sculpture is, in short, a beautiful lie. Mao never confessed to wrongdoing, and of course never can. Yet while impossible, such a confession is a beautiful thought.
The IHT article about The Gao Brothers prompted me to consider that most art — fiction, theater, film, paintings, music, dance, sculpture — consists of beautiful, untrue things.
Beautiful, soul-affirming untruths.
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