Each of these three hanging scrolls is inscribed with the characters zheng 正 and fan 反. When juxtaposed, the words can mean "correct” and “contrary,” “proper” and “improper,” “front” and “back,” “orthodox” and “unorthodox,” thus calling into question what is correct or incorrect in art or in social behavior. In all three scrolls the two characters are written one above another, starkly silhouetted in black ink against a white ground. Gu uses a variety of techniques to undermine their graphic and lexical force, including writing them backward, literally contradicting their semantic sense. The characters in the flanking scrolls are also partially obscured by dark forms that resemble standing figures. As is the case with many of Gu’s works created around the mid-1980s, conceptual interrogations of the written word are often tied to social critique.
Sold by artist's ex-wife Guo Zhen to Ethan Cohen Fine Arts at unknown date. Purchased in 2007 in Hong Kong by current owner, a private collector in Hong Kong.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China," December 9, 2013–April 6, 2014.