titled, inscribed, and dated 1992 in Chinese, and marked with thirteen seals of the artist
The two present paintings are part of Liu's Staring at Fish
series, which are rare works of ink on paper executed between 1992 and 1993. An American artist and collector of Song ceramics, who felt a kinship for Liu Wei's multi-faceted techniques and socially conscious artistic pursuits, commissioned the present lots directly from Liu Wei in 1990. Liu Wei described a Song poet who admired fish and promised he would be the subject of these paintings. During this period, Liu reflects upon the tumultuous events taking place in 1989 and his choice to pursue a reclusive life by staying at home. The inscriptions inform the viewer that watching fish has been a leisure activity favoured by traditional Chinese poets as a form of self-reflection and cultivation, and thus attest to Liu's pursuits of a quiet and refined lifestyle. However, the depicted figures express unease and distance as they lock eyes with the equally bewildered fish trapped in a jar. The gap between the ideal refinements sought after by traditional literati and Liu's reality at home offers a dramatic visual and psychological experience for the viewer to enjoy and decipher.
Liu Wei studied printmaking at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing but following his graduation in 1989, his oil paintings immediately became the focus of his artistic career. Liu is widely recognized as one of two forerunners, alongside Fang Lijun, of the Cynical Realism movement in China, which gained notoriety for satirical depictions of social realism in response to the rapid industrialization and modernization in China during the 1990s. Liu is the first Chinese artist to have been exhibited at the Venice Biennale in two consecutive exhibitions and his works have been extensively exhibited and collected by major museums and collections including the M+ Sigg Collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art Chengdu, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.