Liu Wei's oeuvre firmly establishes him as the most technically sophisticated and substantively ecumenical of the group of artists known as the "Cynical Realists." Having graduated from the mural painting department of the Central Academy in the all-important year of 1989, Liu Wei rose to fame as one of the first crop of Chinese artists to gain exposure in the West, participating in Johnson Chang's landmark exhibition "China's New Art: Post-1989" in 1993. His early style features nuanced depictions of imagined scenes culled from the virtual archive of socialist collective memory. This early group of paintings, realized at the beginning of the 1990s, often features the artist's father, an officer in the People's Liberation Army, captured in profile against a variety of scenes. He swims, watches television, or simply stands with the artist's mother, the muffled grin on his face bespeaking a sense of confusion and subdued anger at the historical tragedies that had so recently passed.
The present work, realized in July 1991 in the same period as the paintings of the artist's father, highlights a world in which city and countryside converge, watched over by a not-so-subtle instantiation of military force in the image of the fighter jet. Three figures occupy the foreground, the relations among them as unclear as the divergent perspectives with which they are rendered. At left a bespectacled man attends to what appears to be a task of manual, perhaps agricultural labor. Shirtless but trousered, he does not fit any readily available archetype. He seems neither peasant nor intellectual. At middle, a man appears chest-deep in a stream, rendered flatly in frontal perspective and outshadowing the figures flanking him by virtue of the exaggerated size of his face. To his left stands a grown man in miniature, half his face cut from the frame. A jacket lies tossed on a bench, and brick paving stones demarcate a walkway by the side of this shallow water.
If the composition of these three figures raises questions¿what exactly are the dynamics among these individuals, for example?¿the background perplexes the viewer even further. Behind the pond, with its layer of floating lotuses and concrete embankments, likes a vintage socialist cityscape: low-lying residential and industrial buildings in drab grays and browns. Even the trees, no doubt planted by some government mandate, can do nothing to lighten the flat atmosphere. And then, just above this otherwise sterile vista flies a national fighter jet, stamped with two Chinese flags and labeled, bizarrely, "Civil Aviation Administration of China" (¿¿¿¿). These characters appear in improper proportions, hastily scribbled onto the fuselage of a plane clearly not intended for civilian use. The plane hovers just inches above the rooftops, at once an instrument of surveillance and a demonstration of national might. None of this however seems to concern the three men in the painting, who go about their business despite its presumably noisy presence.
Such an intricately structured, conscientiously incongruous scene is pure Liu Wei. We know there is a psychological drama being played out on this canvas, but we are almost cautioned against venturing to state it directly. In the words of the quote with which Liu Wei was introduced to the world in the pages of the China's New Art: Post-1989 catalogue, "Art is suffering, it is impossible to speak about it. After thinking about it, it seems better to come up with some ideas and draw a few pictures. In this way, the self is never deceived."
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale