- Liu Wei
- You Like Pork?
- oil on canvas
Acquired by the present owner from the above
Important Private Asian Collectiom
Liu Wei’s art is one that is neither governed by logic or sense. It is rather an oeuvre guided entirely by the artist’s whims and personality, painted with both emotion and honesty. Forging a unique path for himself, Liu distanced his works from the widespread Political Pop movement of China, and went on to create the most unique aesthetical language of Chinese Contemporary Art. The current lot on offer, You Like Pork? (Lot 1043) created in 1995, was exhibited at the Venice Biennale of the same year. Aside from its inherent shock value, this piece exhibits the same erotic qualities of Liu’s Bathing Beauty series painted in 1994, and acts as an important starting point to the artist’s works rendering decaying flesh. More importantly, You Like Pork? is hugely influential in the artist’s oeuvre, representing a tremendously significant shift in his painterly style, a strong and expressive style that remains in his later Meat series, as well as in the seemingly festering Landscape series—thus solidifying the artist’s unique stance in the world of Contemporary Chinese Art. The current work on offer is hugely pioneering in the artist’s oeuvre. You Like Pork? features black as its background colour, a choice which the artist makes in only two works, both of which—including the present lot—appear at the very beginning of the series. Moreover the current You Like Pork? series only includes six works, none of which have ever appeared at auction, making its present debut extremely rare.
You Like Pork? is the artist’s way of challenging his audience, and contains elements of mockery and sarcasm, and remains stubbornly ignorant of the societal conventions. When compared to the other artists who also exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1995, such as Zhang Xiaogang and Gu Wenda, Liu’ refused to adhere to a “Chinese” art form. Whether to revisit the pains of the Cultural Revolution or indeed to dissect the Chinese language, Liu branched off completely, introducing instead a unique artistic style onto the world stage of art. Heavily reminiscent of graffiti, You Like Pork? is filled with rigour and life. A nude woman acts as the centre of the work, as a sea of festering pork of varying sizes surrounds her, forming a sanguineous wall of sorts, with crawling maggots, flies and other such creatures feasting on the meat. With her privates exposed to the audience, the woman’s stance, along with the artist’s unrestrained dripping of paint and his incorporation of graffiti statements, You Like Pork? goes beyond simply being a mockery or cynicism. Rather, it is a direct challenge against its viewer; a forceful visual impact.
Maggots gorge on tender meat just as men obsess over women—in such a way the artist seeks to denigrate lust to a simple thirst for blood and meat. And thus, just like a mirror, You Like Pork? reflects its viewer’s hidden desires. To imagine that the artwork was first unveiled amidst opening drinks at the Venice Biennale, is to visit another side of the expectations of art—one that reveals the deepest desires of human nature. In terms of its technical dexterity, when compared with works from the early nineties such as the Revolutionary Family series, You Like Pork? is much more effortless. The artist liberates his strokes, allowing his pen to move freely, engaging in a game of sorts with the canvas and oils, fully demonstrating a set of unique and strong visual aesthetics. Although You Like Pork? strongly preempts Liu’s later Landscape works in terms of its style, the later works simply cannot compare with the sheer force of the present work, nor can it compete with the richness of its visual language. In such a way, the new additions to Liu’s oeuvre are far less impactful as You Like Pork? –-which only adds to its rarity and immense originality.
After graduating from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1989, Liu Wei began the Revolutionary Family series at home. He took inspiration from his own life, particularly the image of his father as an officer in the People’s Liberation Army. Stylistically, Liu Wei boldly departed from the realism that was mainstream at the time, and instead chose an carefree alternative manner that tended to deform his subjects to the point of ugliness. Such seemingly destructive and irreverent painting style garnered him increasing attention. On the other hand, his subject matters tended towards mischief and lightness. His figures were mostly his friends or people he encountered in everyday life. The famous art critic Li Xianting categorizes him along with Fang Lijun and others as “Cynical Realists” and a new generation of artists after the 1989 “China Avant-Garde” exhibition. According to Li, after the 80’s “idealism that attempted to save and reconstruct Chinese culture with modern Western thought came into widespread doubt, people seemed unable to find a coherent world.” “Boredom and meaninglessness came to be the feelings most true to life at present.” This nihilistic attitude was the precise antidote to the fervent worship of philosophy of the previous decade. Unlike artists of the 80’s, who wanted to engage with the soul of the nation, Cynical Realists were more interested in protecting themselves with bored disengagement. Graduating in 1989, Liu Wei captured the zeitgeist of 1990’s China and became the leading figure of the Cynical Realists along with Fang Lijun.
These avant-garde artists labored in near obscurity in their country in the early 1990’s, but received the recognition of a group of expatriates, who were impressed with their technical finesse and their non-Western aesthetics and promoted them to foreign exhibition organizers. Liu Wei’s first major exhibition, “Liu Wei. Fang Lijun” was co-organized by 埃里克 of the Italian Embassy and the critic 弗蘭, who converted a temple in a Beijing suburb for an unofficial exhibition. On this occasion, Liu Wei introduced his Revolutionary Family series and successfully garned national and international critical attention, including that of the Hong Kong critic and gallery owner Jonathan Chang. Chang invited Liu Wei to participate in the international touring exhibition “China’s New Art, Post-1989” as well as several very important international exhibitions afterwards in which the Hibiscuses Emerging from Water and Beauties Frolicking in Water series appeared, including the 1993 and 1995 Venice Biennales and the 1994 São Paolo Biennial. As a contemporary Chinese artist, Liu Wei became an international sensation.
1995 was one of the most formative years of Liu’s career: he moved into the Songzhuang art colony, choosing not to follow the aesthetic philosophies surrounding him, and pursued rather his own change in style. During this time, the Political Pop movement gained momentum as a potent symbol of Contemporary Chinese art in exhibitions abroad, garnering a considerable degree of attention and swelled to a full-blown craze of its own. At the same time, Liu Wei chose to leave behind his earlier styles such as can be found in the Revolutionary Family series, which contained strong political overtones, and imbued his works with a painterly language that leaned more towards Pop and wantonness—a language that was completely free from the academic realist styles. The raw emotions that were present in his works were released by a bare brush; a brush which portrayed themes according to the artist’s own impulses, ignoring all societal restrictions and expectations, and which instead provoked the viewer and challenged him to accept a new convention of painting. You Like Pork? is precisely from this stage of Liu’s oeuvre. This series laid down the foundations for the artist’s creations in the future, a style which would resurface many a time throughout his works. You Like Pork? inspired the relaxed strokes we see in works such as the Meat series which began in the same year, as well as the Landscape series which began in 1998. All such works exhibited relaxed strokes, where the strong tones reflected the moods of the landscape, reflecting the artist’s unbridled inner feelings. According to Liu Wei, “Painting demands to come from feeling, and it must come from the heart. It is only if one can keep one’s heart alive, that one can keep one’s creativity alive—such is how paintings can always remain fresh.”1 You Like Pork? undoubtedly keeps this creativity alive, through the chaos and mockery—both of which stem from Liu’s brush, we are met with the purest understanding of human desire, staring at the most primitive state of life.
1 Liu Wei, Saatchi Gallery, p. 7