Lot 105
  • 105

Liu Ye B.1964

2,000,000 - 3,000,000 HKD
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  • Liu Ye
  • Sinking Ship
  • Oil on canvas, framed

Reverse signed Liu Ye and dated 1995, Beijing

Catalogue Note

Liu Ye's work meticulous technique, keen intellect, and wry sense of humor distinguish him from nearly every other Chinese painter working today. His compositions invariably contain references to art history and pop culture, couched in a signature style that pits round-faced characters against subtle backgrounds full of inside jokes.

Liu Ye has famously said that, "I have an equal passion for fairy tales and philosophy." Perhaps this has something to do with his artistic education in Germany, a civilization known for its contributions to both. The time he spent there puts him in a rare class-occupied perhaps only by Wang Xingwei and sometimes Zhou Tiehai and Yan Lei-of Chinese painters who "get" the Western landscape fully enough to make jokes about it in their work that would be funny coming from any artist, not simply a Chinese one. His 2001 paintings "Please Don't Cry Anne Sophie," "The Fellinis in the Himalayas," and "The Pope Rescues a Small Pig" speak to this picture-making ingenuity, as knowing jokes on cultural figures from the contemporary Western canon that approach their subjects with uncompromising technique and an element of pathos. Liu Ye's signature motif is the work of Dutch painter Piet Mondrian, which appears in dozens of his canvases (including a number of those recently shown in his first New York solo show at Sperone Westwater), often as a foil to the young girls who stand before it reverently.

The present work, entitled "Sinking Ship," depicts exactly that. The monumentality of the vessel upturned, burning and plunging downward is matched only by the mastery with which Liu Ye plays with light and color, creating a world of purples, reds, and blues. A pair of Chinese cherubim sit on an absurdly placed rock in the foreground, leafing pensively through a book as the smoke-streaming warplanes that have ostensibly caused the ship to sink fly by overhead. Schools of tiny fish jump from the water at their feet, strangely playing off the planes above.

Executed in 1995, immediately after Liu Ye completed his MFA at the Hochschule der Kunst in Berlin, "The Sinking Ship" stands as a major early example of the style in which the artist continues to work today. Its historically fraught subject matter speaks to what the curator Leng Lin pegged in an essay about Liu Ye and his generation as "using fantasy to throw off both the burden of history and geopolitical attitudes of place or global position." The big anxieties of the moment are never more than a step removed from Liu Ye's work, at once hidden and put into relief by his stunning painterly bricolage.