Once the idea is formulated on paper or a notebook and becomes a sketch or writing, the artwork is in fact already completed.”

b. 1956, Beijing

Wang Luyan considers himself a logical person. But when he applies that logic to the world around him, he comes up with endless paradoxes. It is these contradictions that power his art. He was a member of the avant-garde group Stars, which in the late 1970s made a bold call for artistic freedom, and later joined the New Measurement (or Analysis) Group, which sought to infuse contemporary art with rational principles. Trained as a mechanical engineer, he is also a moralist, highly critical of China’s newly competitive, materialistic society. “In the 1960s and ’70s there were no choices,” he says. “Every family had one watch, one bicycle, one sewing machine. Now there are many choices and brands. People are confused.” Many of his works—“branded” with a large W—depict weapons that are calculated to self-destruct, measuring devices that give varying results, and machines that work in unpredictable ways or not at all. He has made a bicycle that goes in any direction but forward, and a “Walk Man” who moves backwards and forwards simultaneously. Fire at Both Ends Automatic Handgun (2003) presents a pistol that, if fired, will kill the user whether or not he hits his target. Wrist Watch (2005) has four hands, one for each global time zone. The cogs of Global Watch (2007) bear the flags of the United States, China, Iran, Korea and other nations. As the clock ticks, the wheels grind away, each dragging its neighbours willy-nilly into motion. “Just as time cannot be stopped,” the artist says, “conflicts too cannot be stopped.”

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