Lot 1104
  • 1104

LIU YE | Mystery

4,000,000 - 6,000,000 HKD
8,095,000 HKD
bidding is closed


  • Liu Ye
  • Mystery
  • acrylic on canvas
  • 50 by 100 cm.   19⅝ by 39¾ in.
signed in Chinese and Pinyin and dated 1999-2000


Galerie Urs Meile, Lucerne
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Gallery 3, Liu Ye: My Own Story, 2003, p. 126, illustrated in colour
Exh. Cat., Bern, Kunstmuseum Bern, Liu Ye, Hong Kong 2007, p. 27, illustrated in colour
Li, Feng Ming, 'To Tell Emotional Stories in a Rational Frame', Art Collection and Design, August 2008, p. 52
Christoph Noe, Ed., Liu Ye Catalogue Raisonné 1991-2015, Berlin 2015, p. 271, no. 97-01, illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

I grew up in a world that was covered in red – the red sun, the red flag, the red scarves.

Liu Ye

An exquisite, magical hush descends from Liu Ye’s Mystery, in which a crimson stage curtain dominates the entire length of the horizontal canvas, bookended by two peeping figures. Diminutive in scale and minimal in composition, the scene speaks volumes via the artist’s strategic use of the color red and bold configuration of figure and setting that powerfully harness viewers’ imagination. Notably, in 2018, almost two decades after the creation of the present work, Liu Ye revisited the motif and setting in Prelude, a smaller work on a square canvas featuring half the composition of Mystery. The 2018 painting is currently the headlining work in Liu Ye’s widely acclaimed solo exhibition Storytelling, curated by Udo Kittelmann, at the Fondazione Prada in Milan. Infused with quiet drama and captivating enigma, Mystery exudes the timeless, whimsically enchanting poeticism unique to Liu Ye’s art.

Crimson drapery plays a fundamental role within Liu Ye’s oeuvre, first appearing as a prominently positioned bright red tablecloth in Atelier, 1991, the first work the artist deemed appropriate for his catalogue raisonné published in 2015. Always rendered in the same brilliant crimson hue, red fabric continued to appear conspicuously within his paintings, featuring as blankets, on top of which sat or stood his iconic winged cherubs; as the alluring skirt of a figure in She Isn’t Afraid of Mondrian from 1995; and finally as stage curtains in two choir scenes in 1995, Beijing Madonna and Chorus. Created in 2000, Mystery is the first and only painting in which the lush heavy curtain is featured literally center stage; in other works, the curtain is repeatedly pulled back to reveal looming battleships, and later in the 2000s, Liu Ye began to create paintings entirely bathed in the abstract color of red. Thus, the red curtain in Mystery serves three important functions; its condensed geometric configuration takes the form of Mondrian-esque abstraction; its monotone hues anticipate Liu Ye’s ensuing red canvases of the 2000s; and finally, its figurative form itself abstracts endless possibilities of time and space – as the border between what is real and imagined, and the boundary between what is to be revealed or concealed.

Employing curtains as a mechanism of covering and discovering was particularly prevalent in the works of Rembrandt, Velázquez and Vermeer. Liu Ye harnesses the age-old trope in service of an intimate memory: for the child of a father who wrote children’s fairy tales and plays, the theatre was a setting of endless fascination and intrigue. On the other hand, the choice of red denotes the weight of an entire generation’s memory; as the artist remarked: “I grew up in a world that was covered in red – the red sun, the red flag, the red scarves” (the artist cited in Zhu Zhu, “Only One Gram”, in Christopher Noe, ed., Liu Ye: Catalogue Raisonne 1991-2015, Germany,  Instantly and progressively enthralling with exquisitely executed detail, Mystery echoes beyond history and space to invoke realms of reverie, memory and dreams.