Lot 504
  • 504

Xu Lei

800,000 - 1,200,000 HKD
bidding is closed


  • Xu Lei
  • Perch
  • ink and colour on paper, framed
  • executed in 1992
executed in 1992
signed in Chinese and marked with two seals of the artist


Alisan Fine Arts, Hong Kong
Private American Collection

Catalogue Note

"An empty Ming chair is a container that bears its own connotation, waiting for its self-enlightenment. It is obedient, humble, peaceful, and always calls for a body to fill in, but still feels lost. However, it was born to be a reminder of absence, which implies abandon. Every chair has a distinctive personality, and from it we can decipher its former identity – dignified or literary, Zen or sumptuous – like the cicada shell, though freed from its natural properties, still processes its social ones, to be verified at any time." - Xu Lei, 20031

As one of the leading contemporary ink artists using the gongbi technique, Xu Lei constructs a magical world full of symbolism with his exquisite brushstrokes and meticulous attention to detail. His paintings are distinguished by recurrent imagery of horses, butterflies, birds, and scholar's rocks in enigmatic arrangements for well-staged scenes full of visual metaphor and theatre.

Xu Lei's paintings provide a surreal drama that makes one uncertain about the tension of not being part of a scene yet also trapped within a realistic setting.2 In Perch, Xu opens up the 'stage' with screens on either side of the frame, offering a frontal view of seven Ming chairs on one of which a parrot is perched. At first glance, the overall setting and imagery recalls the Ming Furniture and Cat (Lot 505) by Fang Jun, with whom Xu studied with in his early period. Upon closer inspection, one discovers that Xu's chairs, by their frontal arrangement and transparent composition, prevent the viewers from entering the pictorial space and strongly suggest the absence, rather than presence, of its sitter.

The screen that directs the viewer's attention to the staged drama is one of Xu's favoured motifs. Inspired by Ming dynasty woodblock prints of drama illustrations, Xu employs the screen as a literal and temporal space divider, which not only adds spatial complexity but also compositional flexibility and a sense of balance with rhythm.3 The screen marks the boundary of an inner space eroticized by symbols with sexual connotations—the parrot and the Ming chair arms4—and the outer world of our reality.

A true contemporary literati and scholar of Chinese art history, Xu Lei presents a style that is wholly his own of an alluring pictorial world derived from reality or history. His works are in important private and museum collections in China and the U.S., including the Shanghai Art Museum, the Nanjing Art Institute, Today Art Museum, Beijing, and the Asian Division of the Library of Congress, Washington D.C. He has been in solo and group exhibitions in galleries and museums worldwide, including the National Art Museum of China, Shanghai Art Museum, Guggenheim Museums in New York and Bilbao, Irish Museum of Modern Art, and Hong Kong Arts Centre.

1 Xu Lei, "On Alien Forms – 'Ming style' and Us", Jingdian, 2003
2 Pi Li, "Departure and Distancing: Avant-Garde Reflection in Xu Lei's Painting", 2013, p. 42.
3 Zhu Zhu, "The Shell of the World: Interview with Xu Lei", Oriental Art, 2006, Vol. 3, p. 108.
Ibid., p. 110.