The Second Situation consists of four monochromatic oil paintings, each showing the same man at different stages of a laugh, or perhaps demonstrating four different ways of laughing. With the face enlarged beyond life size, the man’s distinct and changing facial expressions—his widening mouth, arching eyebrows, and crinkling eyes—are clearly visible. Notably, the man’s ears and neck are absent, and the face emerges from the darkness, taking on a mask-like appearance. The grey palette and sense of detachment reflect the cynicism in the works of Geng Jianyi and his contemporaries, who sought to generate critical perspectives on society in light of China’s modernisation. Exhibited at the 1989 China/Avant-Garde exhibition at the National Art Museum of China, the work cemented Geng’s reputation as a pioneer of the avant-garde movement in China in the late 1980s. Geng examined the relationship between perception and reality across his practice, which encompassed photography, video, installation, and performance.
Geng Jianyi (born 1962, Zhengzhou) graduated from the Oil Painting Department of the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts, Hangzhou, in 1985. He was an early member of the pioneering avant-garde group the Pond Society and works with diverse media including oil painting, installation, and ink drawing. Geng is best known for works that represent ambivalent notions of identity and its relation to the larger world. He lives and works in Hangzhou.