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Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand Years of Sleep, One Hundred Million Scattered Pieces

View through Harvard Museums
This triptych comprises a set of three hanging scrolls, each painted in ink on paper. The central scroll is a formal portrait of Mao Zedong (1893–1976); the flanking scrolls represent landscapes. The Mao portrait is based both on the official portrait photograph of Mao Zedong that was taken in 1959 by Xinhua News Agency photojournalists Meng Qingbiao (1925–1969) and Ho Bo (born 1924) and on the official portrait painting of Chairman Mao that that was created in 1959 by Zhang Zhenshi (1914–1992), a professor at the Central Academy of Arts and Crafts, Beijing, based on the official portrait photograph. The portrait presents a bust-length, frontal portrait of Chairman Mao, his head and shoulders turned slightly, almost imperceptibly, to his proper right. His hair is combed straight back, his eyes are fully open, and his mouth suggests a slight smile. He wears a Mao jacket, buttoned all the way to the top; one circular button appears in the inverted “V” formed by the two downward-projecting points of the collar. Perhaps part of the Mao-jacket collar, perhaps the top of a collar of a shirt worn under the jacket, a slender white line encircles Chairman Mao’s neck, readily distinguishing garment from flesh. A circular black disc appears in the center of the otherwise unembellished white paper above Chairman Mao’s head. The background area of the portrait—but not the area above the portrait—are fully textured, so that the image of Chairman Mao emerges from a gray background. The characters that appear throughout the painting, both in the portrait of Chairman Mao and in the disc above—i.e., one character within each square of the grid—read Mao Ze Dong; arranged in random order, they also appear in random orientations, some right side up, others upside down, and yet others sideways. The “texturing characters” appear in the image of Mao, in the background areas, and in the disc above but are most evident in the background areas and in the disc. A long inscription comprising 180 characters appears in the rectangular border surrounding the painting. A narrow strip of unembellished white paper appears just inside the border, clearly differentiating border from portrait. Each landscape scroll presents a view into a deep mountain valley that recedes distantly into the pictorial space. Each landscape is a bilaterally symmetrical rendition of the other, so that the landscapes are mirror images of each other. Appearing black and positioned at the “inside edge” of each landscape composition—i.e., on the side of the composition opposite from the blank grid square that is an “implied seal” (see description below)—a towering foreground peak partially blocks the view of the mountain range that rises on one side of the valley. Silhouetted against the receding valley, old pines grow around the periphery of the foreground peak and around the top of the shorter peak that accompanies it. When the landscape scrolls are hung on either side of the central scroll, the dark, foreground peaks frame the Mao portrait. A rectangular area of blank paper appears above each landscape, and a dark border frames each composition and the accompanying blank paper above, a narrow strip of unembellished white paper separating border from landscape, the arrangement echoing that of the central, portrait scroll. The artist did the “original version” of this triptych in 1988 in fulfillment of requirements for his bachelor of arts degree at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The artist sold the Mao portrait from that set to Kingsley Liu, a Hong Kong collector of contemporary Chinese ink paintings; the artist still owns the two landscapes from the original set. The artist originally was thinking of simply painting a new Mao portrait, which he would pair with the existing, original landscape paintings (from 1988) for this set (which was commissioned twenty years after the original set; however, upon re-examining the landscape scrolls, which had been stored in Hong Kong, the artist discovered that they sustained water damaged while stored. Thus, the artist created an entirely new set in 2009. The artist has stated that although this work is a triptych and although he would prefer that the scrolls be exhibited as a set, in fact, the scrolls may be exhibited in whichever arrangement or grouping that curators would like; thus, the scrolls may be shown individually, just as the two landscape scrolls may be exhibited as a pair (without the central portrait of Mao).
Rights: © Lee Chun-yi
Department of Asian Art Artist Chun-yi Lee (also spelled Li Junyi) 2009 sold; to Robert D. Mowry MA (2009-2012) gift; to Harvard Art Museums 2012. Footnotes: The art work was commissioned by Robert D. Mowry in 2008 and created by the artist Chun-yi Lee (also spelled Li Junyi) in 2009. Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum Gift of Robert D. Mowry in honor of Chu-tsing Li and in memory of Yao-wen Kwang Li
Title: Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand Years of Sleep, One Hundred Million Scattered Pieces
Description:
This triptych comprises a set of three hanging scrolls, each painted in ink on paper.
The central scroll is a formal portrait of Mao Zedong (1893–1976); the flanking scrolls represent landscapes.
The Mao portrait is based both on the official portrait photograph of Mao Zedong that was taken in 1959 by Xinhua News Agency photojournalists Meng Qingbiao (1925–1969) and Ho Bo (born 1924) and on the official portrait painting of Chairman Mao that that was created in 1959 by Zhang Zhenshi (1914–1992), a professor at the Central Academy of Arts and Crafts, Beijing, based on the official portrait photograph.
The portrait presents a bust-length, frontal portrait of Chairman Mao, his head and shoulders turned slightly, almost imperceptibly, to his proper right.
His hair is combed straight back, his eyes are fully open, and his mouth suggests a slight smile.
He wears a Mao jacket, buttoned all the way to the top; one circular button appears in the inverted “V” formed by the two downward-projecting points of the collar.
Perhaps part of the Mao-jacket collar, perhaps the top of a collar of a shirt worn under the jacket, a slender white line encircles Chairman Mao’s neck, readily distinguishing garment from flesh.
A circular black disc appears in the center of the otherwise unembellished white paper above Chairman Mao’s head.
The background area of the portrait—but not the area above the portrait—are fully textured, so that the image of Chairman Mao emerges from a gray background.
The characters that appear throughout the painting, both in the portrait of Chairman Mao and in the disc above—i.
e.
, one character within each square of the grid—read Mao Ze Dong; arranged in random order, they also appear in random orientations, some right side up, others upside down, and yet others sideways.
The “texturing characters” appear in the image of Mao, in the background areas, and in the disc above but are most evident in the background areas and in the disc.
A long inscription comprising 180 characters appears in the rectangular border surrounding the painting.
A narrow strip of unembellished white paper appears just inside the border, clearly differentiating border from portrait.
Each landscape scroll presents a view into a deep mountain valley that recedes distantly into the pictorial space.
Each landscape is a bilaterally symmetrical rendition of the other, so that the landscapes are mirror images of each other.
Appearing black and positioned at the “inside edge” of each landscape composition—i.
e.
, on the side of the composition opposite from the blank grid square that is an “implied seal” (see description below)—a towering foreground peak partially blocks the view of the mountain range that rises on one side of the valley.
Silhouetted against the receding valley, old pines grow around the periphery of the foreground peak and around the top of the shorter peak that accompanies it.
When the landscape scrolls are hung on either side of the central scroll, the dark, foreground peaks frame the Mao portrait.
A rectangular area of blank paper appears above each landscape, and a dark border frames each composition and the accompanying blank paper above, a narrow strip of unembellished white paper separating border from landscape, the arrangement echoing that of the central, portrait scroll.
The artist did the “original version” of this triptych in 1988 in fulfillment of requirements for his bachelor of arts degree at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
The artist sold the Mao portrait from that set to Kingsley Liu, a Hong Kong collector of contemporary Chinese ink paintings; the artist still owns the two landscapes from the original set.
The artist originally was thinking of simply painting a new Mao portrait, which he would pair with the existing, original landscape paintings (from 1988) for this set (which was commissioned twenty years after the original set; however, upon re-examining the landscape scrolls, which had been stored in Hong Kong, the artist discovered that they sustained water damaged while stored.
Thus, the artist created an entirely new set in 2009.
The artist has stated that although this work is a triptych and although he would prefer that the scrolls be exhibited as a set, in fact, the scrolls may be exhibited in whichever arrangement or grouping that curators would like; thus, the scrolls may be shown individually, just as the two landscape scrolls may be exhibited as a pair (without the central portrait of Mao).

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