Lot 1089
  • 1089

Liu Ye

10,000,000 - 15,000,000 HKD
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  • Liu Ye
  • Boogie Woogie, Little Girl in New York
  • acrylic and oil on canvas
signed in Chinese and Pinyin and dated 06, framed


Sperone Westwater Gallery, New York
Private Collection
Christie's, Hong Kong, 24 May 2009, lot 510
Acquired by the present owner from the above sale


USA, New York, Sperone Westwater Gallery, Liu Ye: Temptations, 14 September - 28 October 2006, p. 15


This work is generally in good condition. There is minor wear in handling marks around the edges. Please note that it was not examined under ultraviolet light.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

An Insistence Upon and Inquiry into Art
Two of Liu Ye’s Important Works 

Born in the 1960s, Liu Ye is one of the key characters of Chinese contemporary art. The artist and his cohorts, representative figures of the movement, largely rose to international eminence in the 1990s. Among them, Liu Ye has always occupied a unique position. By the time the artist returned to China from Berlin in 1994, the others had given their attention to political and social issues, the domestic political upheaval fueling the rise of Cynical Realism, a movement that had captivated the global art world and was now being used as a way of drawing in the gaze of the Western world. But Liu Ye was insistent upon remaining true to his art. He said, “The most basic human emotions are more moving to me, such as humanism, beauty, kindness, and sadness. These are more important than political ideology.”1 Liu Ye never let his focus drift from painting itself, and created a fantastical, fairytale world upon his canvases, underlying which was a rumination and respect for the history of art. Boogie Woogie, Little Girl in New York is an important, thematically representative work from the artist’s first solo exhibition in New York in 2006. Its composition is a continuation of the artist’s ponderings over modern art history, a mature work that provides insight into understanding the artist himself. Madonna with Naughty Boys (Blue) is the artist’s homage to classical European art. These two important works reveal the depth of Liu Ye’s understanding of art, a truth that lies behind the paintings’ deceptively charming surfaces.

Boogie Woogie, Little Girl in New York (Lot No. 1089) is one of the thematic paintings from Liu Ye’s first solo exhibition in the States in 2006. With pink as the dominant color tone, the iconic little girl of Liu Ye’s paintings is the subject. The child’s back faces the viewer as she gazes at the Mondrian hanging upon the wall, and a sense of quiet particular to Liu Ye’s works emanates from the canvas. The artist has often used the subject of this little girl to serve as a projection of the artist himself. This painting made its first appearance in New York, and the painting’s setting: the New York Museum of Modern Art. No stretch of the imagination is needed, then, to see that Boogie Woogie, Little Girl in New York is homage to Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie, which is part of the New York MOMA’s collection. Liu Ye was heavily influenced by the Dutch artist while studying at the Berlin Art Institute during his earlier years. Mondrian’s style, his clean and rigorous straight lines and balanced, square compositions have appeared and reappeared in Liu Ye’s own works, becoming one of the important visual elements of his paintings. The artist once explained, “Mondrian’s paintings appear in spirit in my own paintings. His paintings are so pure, relying only on the most basic of colors, and vertical and horizontal lines. I, too, want to engage the problem of purity.”

Broadway Boogie Woogie was completed by Mondrian between 1942 and 1943. It was World War II, and the artist had just fled Europe to seek refuge in America.  He became enthralled with American jazz and with the boogie woogie, in particular. Mondrian transformed aspects of impromptu performance and the style’s strong rhythmic pulse into red and blue squares, positioning them irregularly within yellow lines, projecting onto the canvas the city’s pulsating rhythm and diversity. Boogie Woogie, Little Girl in New York is a record of Liu Ye’s encounter with Mondrian in the States. The little girl and the painting are the main subjects, appearing at the centre of the canvas. The composition as a whole is orderly and balanced, its artistic language leaping over half a century to sing in unison with the voice of Mondrian. The image’s stunning meticulousness and precision are a testament to the artist’s industrial drafting training, which equipped him with patience and discipline. His artistic expression, which finds its roots in logic, often reveals a cool, placid style. Whether it is in the left-right balance of the composition, or the distribution of weight between top and bottom, he creates a sense of holistic harmony. Great contrast and tension are generated between this style of calm precision and the bold pink colour upon the canvas, bestowing Liu Ye’s language with surrealism.

Madonna with Naughty Boys (Blue) (Lot No. 1088) is one of Liu Ye’s early works from 1998, and one of the rare rhombus-shaped works completed by the artist. In it the Virgin Mary cradles a baby, surrounded by five instrument-handling angels, on her face a smile of serenity. The painting carries highly autobiographical undertones, the facial features of the five angels strongly resembling those of the artist, and the Virgin Mary possibly representing the artist’s own mother, or his lover. It is no secret that for many artists, the childhood years are important ones, a creative well from which the artist continually draws. Madonna with Naughty Boys (Blue) was created out of this tradition. For Liu Ye, his childhood years represented a sort of asylum, a time of purity, unscathed by the scars of hurt or corruption that accompany the process of growing up. “My paintings belong essentially to my personal life. Childhood, for me, was a golden age, and many aspects of my painting are a reflection of my childhood imagination and fantasies.” But finding himself in the harsh, real world, Liu Ye’s paintings hint at the world of the adult. The Virgin Mary baring her breasts, surrounded by the blue angels, seems to suggest the intrusion of reality, the simultaneous existence of both the pure and the base. Yet the dichotomy is rendered with an astonishing harmony and balance in this richly composed, colourful painting from the artist’s earlier years.

The juxtaposition of the whimsical with the philosophical has thus become the artist’s signature style. Liu Ye once said, “My passion is divided in equal parts between fairytales and philosophy.” This may perhaps be attributed to the artistic education he received in Germany, a country that has made great contributions in both arenas. Liu Ye returned to China in 1994, following the completion of his studies at the Academy of the Arts, Berlin (Hochschule der Kunste Berlin), where the Political Pop and Cynical Realism movements had taken centre stage in Chinese contemporary art. Engulfed by an economy growing at the speed of light, Liu Ye delved deep into the world of his childhood memories and the realm of fairytales. His cartoon-like figures, the brilliant colours, the charm, together form an entirely singular style, one in great contrast with the other big figures of Chinese contemporary art at the time. Liu Ye’s emphasis on the human was what separated him from the rest.

In the early 90s, symbols from the Cultural Revolution were widely adopted in art, propelling the Political Pop movement to dizzying heights. These artists approached their creations at a sociopolitical angle, using satire and criticism. Liu Ye, on the other hand, who had left China for Berlin’s Academy of the Arts during the height of political upheaval in his homeland, chose to maintain a distance from these social issues. “We’re often trained to have our art reflect big social events, to represent the history of our times. . . This kind of thinking neglects the experience and real feelings of the individual, and withers into dryness and the realm of the conceptual.” He explained, “The influence of politics upon art finds its way into every pore; rejecting it is thus a valid attitude.” For Liu Ye, the enduring verities of beauty and ugliness, of good and evil, of sadness and happiness, are of far greater importance than political ideology.

“I was born into the Cultural Revolution. My childhood drawings were largely of airplanes, cannons, and warships. Sometimes it was the amber sun that I drew, or sunflowers.” Liu Ye believes that painting is an expression of one’s true self. “I believe that in one’s art, portraying something realistically is not as important as portraying it honestly.” And this, amid the crowd of Chinese artists from the same generation, is what makes Liu Ye an artist of his own.  

1 Liu Ye; Red, Yellow, and Blue; Schoeni Art Gallery, 2003.