They have rocked China’s contemporary art scene with their politically-charged sculptures.
And now the Gao brothers are taking their work to North America and Europe.
Execution Of Christ is one of their most recent pieces, a grouping of life-sized statues of the former Communist leader Mao Zedong training their rifles on Jesus Christ.
Gao Qiang said: “The composition of this was taken from a famous painting by Manet: Execution of the Emperor Maximilian. And Manet’s painting copied the composition of Spanish artist Goya’s The Execution of the Rebels, which was about executing a group of rebels. Our work is very similar to that one in terms of composition.”
Statues of Mao are still revered in much of China and to many the Gao brothers’ work is inflamatory and insulting.
Although artists such as the Gaos are not banned outright, they must tread a fine line with the authorities.
Elder brother Gao Zhen said: “We think humanity is unified. Human beings share something in common. After the Cultural Revolution we started to review the things we learnt from the propaganda, and think for ourselves.”
The brothers lost their father during the Cultural Revolution.
A short drive from Beijing’s 798 art district, the brothers have another studio where they keep their larger works and where they produce plaster casts of their statues.
One piece which will be shown in the US is called “Catching Prostitute”. It was apparently inspired by a photo of a sex worker being arrested.
Gao Zhen said: “This studio was rented two years ago. At that time our studio in 798 was forced to shut down as the government wanted to drive us out of 798, so we prepared this studio as a back-up. We have rented this one and another bigger one nearby. This is basically our production base. Many of our works, like these paintings and sculptures, were all finished here.”
Art critic Cheng Meixin believes the Gao brothers are among the few Chinese artists who have kept their integrity.
He said: “In Chinese modern art, there are not many people like the Gao brothers who have kept their accurate perspective and critical spirit. Although China has many modern artists and art styles, artists who can always hold on their spirit of independence are very, very few.”
Loved and loathed in equal measures – some feel their pieces are too obvious – the Gao brothers are not worried about creating a stir.
Some of their pieces are currently on show at the Vancouver International Sculpture Biennale.