Details & Cataloguing

Modern and Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong

Liu Ye
B. 1964
signed in Chinese and Pinyin and dated 07
acrylic on canvas
300 by 220 cm; 118⅛ by 86⅝ in.
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Galerie Johnen + Schöttle, Cologne
Acquired by the present owner from the above


Austria, Vienna, Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, China: Facing Reality, 26 October 2007 - 10 February 2008, p. 163 (illustrated in colour)
Germany, Cologne, Galerie Johnen + Schöttle, Infatuation, 2007
Germany, Berlin, me Collectors Room Berlin / Stiftung Olbricht, Passion Fruits Picked from the Olbricht Collection, 1 May - 12 September 2010
Netherlands, Amersfoort, Mondriannhuis, Mondriaan and Liu Ye, 10 June - 9 October 2016


Liu Ye: Leave Me in the Dark, Sperone Westwater Gallery, New York, USA, 2009, p. 61 (illustrated in colour) 
Zhao Li ed., China Contemporary Art: Today and Beyond, CYPI Press, Beijing, China, 2010, p. 92 (illustrated in colour)
Lightness: A Clue and Six Faces, Hive Centre for Contemporary Art, Beijing, China, 2013, p. 36 (illustrated in colour)
Zhu Zhu ed., Grey Carnival: Art in China Since 2000, Guangxi Normal University PressGuilin, China, 2013, p. 122 (illustrated in colour)
Liu Ye Catalogue Raisonné 1991-2015, Hatje Cantz, Germany, 2015, pp. 203 & 335, no. 07-12

Catalogue Note

From Mondrian to Song and Yuan Landscapes
Liu Ye

At this year’s Venice Biennale, Liu Ye was one of the few Chinese artists invited to participate in the theme exhibition, ‘Viva Arte Viva’. Unlike the Chinese artists of the preceding era, whose political pop art took the Venice art world by storm in the 90s, Liu Ye’s art is rooted within the concerns of painting itself. Stepping across the chasm separating Eastern and Western culture, and bridging the concrete and abstract, Liu’s work depicts art in its most basic essence: eternal, still, and pure. Early in his career, Liu invoked Mondrian in a direct way, an homage that later evolved in the late 2000s to an internalization of Mondrian’s segmentation and reassembly of space and composition, the solemn abstractions taking form in Liu’s most important subject to date: bamboo. The lot on offer at this sale is Composition with Tree and Bamboo, created in 2007, the first work of the series that established a shift in the artist’s rendering of composition and assembly, marking a profound turning point. This painting also demonstrates the turn of the artist’s attention toward traditional Chinese painting and his pursuit of unity between Eastern art and Western abstractionism, advancing the possibilities of artistic language, and thus sounding the gong of Liu’s reputation and acclaim throughout the art world.

From the time he began studying abroad in Germany until today, Liu’s work has been continuously evolving. In the early 90s, the artist was enthralled with the art of the Renaissance, particularly that of Jan van Eyck. He was similarly influenced by Andy Warhol’s Pop Art movement, and used the language of parody and surrealism to create several post-modern scenes. Liu expressed: ‘I don’t want to become an artist who represents reality, to revert to the early Renaissance. I’m not the realist type. My interest lies in post-modernism, so my images contain a bit of surrealism, of un-reality’.

After periods of surrealism and dark humour, Liu moved on to other subjects: child naval officers, little girls, female teachers, cherubs, Miffy the bunny. These became the stylistic backbone of his creations in the 90s. In the 2000s, Liu made a conscious turn toward abstractionism, but the connecting thread running consistently through decades of Liu’s work was the artist he most revered: Mondrian. In this way, the evolution of Mondrian’s influence in Liu’s paintings can serve as a testament to Liu’s artistic journey. Liu’s early years show him invoking Mondrian’s paintings directly as the subject of some of his own works. In the 2000s, he borrowed Mondrian’s treatment of space. But by 2007, Liu Ye had elevated his conversation with the old master, and internalized the aesthetics of Mondrian’s spatial composition and segmentation within the paintings themselves. As art critic Zhu Zhu explains, ‘[Mondrian] uses a solid and well-defined composition, as well as a rhythm that approaches music, in personifying the images captured under his brush: blocks, toys, books, little girls, musicians, etc.’ Liu continues Mondrian’s spirit of abstractionism, while at the same time internalizing it into a state of greater purity and creating a distinct artistic language.

During this momentous year of 2007, Liu chose to use a subject that would become profoundly important in his career: bamboo. Composition with Tree and Bamboo is the first work in the entire series, highly representative for its signalling of a new period in the artist’s journey, a status that privileged the piece to be the most widely exhibited in the series. In Composition with Tree and Bamboo, we witness the shift in Liu’s creative orientation, his gradual exclusion of narrative. Liu explains, ‘The art is purified. By reducing the emotion, narrative, and story present in my earlier works, the work must rely on the inherent elements of painting, such as proportion, colour, and composition’.

Bamboo, in traditional Chinese art, was often used as a metaphor for the integrity of the literati, symbolizing their spirit, their upstanding and modest characters. It was one of the most oft-used subjects in Chinese landscape painting during the Song and Yuan dynasties. Liu’s use of this iconic Chinese image represented a breaking through of his previous boundaries. In the painting, tree and bamboo stand side by side upon a snowy ground. In the background is a low wall. The low wall and the horizon line, as well as the stick-straight bamboo and tree manifest in converging lines. The bamboo and spade resting gently upon the tree create two triangles, a restoration of geometric purity. The tree, wall, and the snow on the ground act as illuminating agents, emphasizing the painting’s dimensionality and atmosphere. The geometric shapes and lines created by the bamboo and tree are a clear response to Mondrian’s quest for harmony and musicality. Here, Liu Ye has internalized these aesthetic pursuits in the form of a classically Chinese subject, the bamboo. The bamboo and tree, leaning gently against each other, seem imbued with human emotion. Walking the line between the concrete and abstract, Liu has captured the lightening flash of art’s spirit within an atmosphere of stillness. Liu later created five more paintings in the ‘Composition with Bamboo’ series, which are the artist’s most important artistic breakthrough to date, all of which originated with the lot on offer today: Composition with Tree and Bamboo.

Modern and Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong