Important Australian and International Fine Art
13 September 2016


born 1957, Chinese, Australian

synthetic polymer paint on thirteen canvases

87.0 x 46.0 cm each
87.0 x 598.0 cm overall

each signed with initials lower right: G.W.
each numbered verso

$30,000 – 40,000 (13)
Sold for $48,800 (inc. BP) in Auction 44 - 13 September 2016, Sydney

Sherman Galleries, Sydney
Private collection, New South Wales


Guan Wei – Recent Work, Sherman Galleries, Sydney, 28 September – 21 October 1995 (illus. in exhibition catalogue and back cover)
Guan Wei – The Last Supper, Tokyo Gallery, Tokyo, 27 October – 14 November 1997 (illus. in exhibition catalogue)
Guan Wei – Nesting, or The Art of Idleness 1989 – 1999, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 4 June – 8 August 1999


Jones, E., ‘Spirit-Man Guan Wei’, Art and Australia, vol. 33, no. 3, Autumn 1996, pp. 431 – 432

Catalogue text

Composed of thirteen panels cropped to feature only the torsos of Guan Wei’s stylised beings seated at a large banquet table, The Last Supper, 1995, is a key work from a pivotal period in the artist’s career. A leading figure of a group of Chinese émigré artists resulting from the cultural diaspora post-1989, Guan Wei is famous for having created a syncretic visual vocabulary through which to present his ideas to an Australian audience. Guan Wei’s paintings are windows into a parallel universe, where his androgynous demi-gods navigate unchartered physical and cosmic territories, struggling to make sense of the curious array of artefacts laid before them. Witty allegories of the contentious political issues of our time, Guan Wei’s paintings escape easy categorisation, instead providing multiple avenues for interpretation.

Rather than presenting a humorous reinterpretation of an episode from the Christian gospel, The Last Supper is an expression of Guan Wei’s social conscience, a meditation on the future of humanity; a feature of the artist’s mature artworks. During the 1990s, Guan Wei’s works were inspired by concerns about technological development and the potential consequences and implications for humankind.

Similar in format and composition to other works of the same period (such as The Efficacy of Medicine, acquired by National Gallery of Australia in 2000) The Last Supper shows haloed beings gesticulating theatrically, ignoring the array of potentially poisonous cocktails before them and toying instead with a red and blue capsule.1 A stylistic device linking each portrait, the capsule is also a recurrent symbol in other works by the artist, such as Treasure Hunt II, 1995. In 2006, Guan Wei explained to Deborah Hart, now Head Curator of Australian Art at the NGA, the meaning of this symbol:

‘In each painting, the capsules are a symbol of medicine and drugs. They represent a new substance produced from ancient alchemy and modern high technology. They could save lives, but could also cause death. It is up to us.’2

Guan Wei’s syncretism weaves together elements from Western and Oriental art and culture, in particular Taoist philosophy. In addition to bestowing his figures with but a single Taoist outward-looking eye, it has also been suggested that the capsule is a representation of the Taoist pill of immortality, elegantly linking this artist’s world with the Christian message of resurrection and creating a hybrid vision rather than a simple transliteration. 3

1. In addition to classic signs of poison, such as the skull and crossbones atop a swizzle stick in the 10th panel, many of the other objects on the banquet table could be either venomous or poisonous, such as a frog, lizard, flowers and seeds.
2. Hart, D., ‘Looking for home: The fables of Guan Wei’, Art and Australia, vol. 40, no. 4, Sydney, Winter 2003, p. 623
3. Jones, E., ‘Spirit Man: Guan Wei’, Art and Australia, vol. 33, no. 3, Sydney, Autumn 1996, p. 431